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Five Things to Know about Kidney Disease

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It’s a disease that affects about 26 million Americans.  If untreated it will kill these people.  And more than a third of patients who have been diagnosed with it and counseled about it do not even know they have chronic kidney disease; it’s a disease that nobody sees.  That is not a typo; I did say they do not know they have the disease, at least according to research recently conducted at Vanderbilt University and reports from the specialists who treat kidney disease.  Kidney disease is a concern to me as a geriatric care manager, because it affects disproportionately more older adults and because it can be an outcome of poorly controlled of diabetes or high blood pressure and just more birthdays.

A research team headed by Dr. Kerri Cavanaugh of Vanderbilt surveyed 401 patients with various stages of chronic kidney disease.  The patients were being treated at the university’s nephrology clinic, and the majority had actually seen a nephrologist within the past year, and many had even attended “education courses.”  Yet, when they were asked if they had chronic kidney disease, more than one in three said “no.”  This speaks to my top two rules about visits to a health care provider:

  • Always take along a prepared list of questions and get answers from your provider;
  • Always take a caregiver, friend or family member along to ask questions,

    listen and take notes along with you.

I mentioned in my title to this posting that this is “the disease nobody sees.”  Now, the five things you should know if you or someone for whom you care may have chronic kidney disease, because the end stage of chronic kidney disease is renal failure which leads to dialysis as your kidneys simply stop doing their clean-up job on your blood:

  1. If you have diabetes, hypertension, a family history of the disease or are over

    60 years old, get a kidney function test every year.

  2. Maintain good control of your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and keep your weight down.
  3. If you have even stage 1 kidney disease, stay away from acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin as well as laxatives, antacids, ulcer medications, certain decongestants and even enemas.
  4. Stay away from foods that are high in salt as well as anything that may contain magnesium or aluminum.
  5. Be alert to changes in urination, swelling of the extremities and face, fatigue, a metallic taste, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, leg or back pain or feeling cold even when it is warm.

For more information on what to be alert to as well as how to preserve kidney function, I recommend the website of the National Kidney Foundation.  

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.

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