What’s your risk for kidney disease?

Kidney disease might not get as much attention as other diseases, but it’s a widespread problem that affects many people with common issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Each year, it kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined.

More than 26 million Americans, or 13 percent of the U.S. adult population, have chronic kidney disease, characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time, according to the National Kidney Foundation. That figure is expected to rise due to high rates of obesity (linked to diabetes and high blood pressure, the No 1. and No. 2 causes of kidney disease) and the aging of the Baby Boom generation. Most of those 26 million don’t even know they have it.

Dr. Eleanor Lederer, nephrologist, who leads the UofL Physicians – Kidney Disease Program, said awareness of the disease, and the toll it takes on victims and their families, is important as “we do have ways to prevent and treat many of these diseases before an individual loses kidney function completely.”

New research being conducted by UofL Physicians doctors focuses on using peptide biomarkers in a simple urine test that would predict a person’s risk for kidney disease and kidney failure before damage begins to occur. Doctors then could start early interventions to help preserve kidney function, potentially eliminating the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant later on.

“This is ground-breaking work as catching kidney disease early is important,” said Dr. Lederer. “It’s a disease that often develops slowly with no early symptoms, and people might not realize they have it until it is too late.”

She said those most at risk are people with diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney failure.

Kidney disease can develop at any time, even in the young, but it is more likely in those over age 60.

It can cause cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, as well as heart attack, stroke, weak bones, nerve damage and anemia (low red blood cell count). As the disease progresses, it may lead to kidney failure. In advanced cases, someone with kidney disease may need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive.

Risk factors for kidney disease are diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, kidney stones, being over the age of 60 and having a family history of kidney disease. Prolonged use of over-the-counter pain medications also can be a risk factor. Additional risk factors include autoimmune diseases, urinary tract infections, systemic infections and kidney loss, damage, injury or infection.

“It’s a good idea for everyone to be screened for kidney disease,” said Dr. Lederer. “A doctor can check for kidney disease with simple urine and blood tests. The earlier it’s caught, the better chance someone has to live a full and healthy life.”

For anyone over 60 or in high-risk groups, Dr. Lederer recommends annual testing.

Taking care of your overall health and getting an annual physical exam can help keep your kidneys healthy. Regular exercise, a diet low in salt, maintaining a healthy weight and monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels are important, as are not smoking, drinking in moderation and avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Are you at risk?

Take the “Are you at risk?” quiz from the National Kidney Foundation, and see its printable kidney health checklist.

Visit the UofL Physicians – Kidney Disease Program website to learn more.