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It’s National Kidney Month – here’s what you should know about how to keep your kidneys healthy.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CAUSES OF KIDNEY DISEASE, AND WHY SHOULD AFRICAN AMERICANS BE CONCERNED ABOUT IT?

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the main causes of kidney disease, and your chances of having diabetes and high blood pressure depend on a combination of factors, including your genes and lifestyle. Rates of diabetes, high blood pressure tend to be higher in the African-American community. For this reason, African-Americans have a greater chance of developing kidney disease.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF KIDNEY DISEASE?

Early-stage kidney disease usually has no symptoms. Many people don’t know they have kidney disease until just before their kidneys fail. If your kidneys fail, you’ll have to either go on dialysis or get a kidney transplant.

As kidney disease gets worse, you may have a range of problems including leg swelling, itchy or dry skin, anemia, bone disease, and heart disease. Other symptoms can be found on NIDDK’s kidney disease health information pages.

HOW ARE DIABETES AND KIDNEY DISEASE RELATED?

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. Nearly 1 in 3 people with diabetes has kidney disease. High blood glucose, also called blood sugar, from diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your kidneys. The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you will have kidney disease, which is why it’s important to take steps to manage your diabetes.

HOW IS KIDNEY DISEASE TREATED?

You can’t reverse progressive kidney damage, but you may be able to avoid or delay dialysis or a kidney transplant with medications and lifestyle changes, such as controlling your blood pressure and meeting your blood glucose goal if you have diabetes. It’s also important to take all medications prescribed for you.

Other ways to manage your kidney disease can be found on NIDDK’s kidney disease health information pages.

WHO’S MOST AT RISK FOR GETTING KIDNEY DISEASE?

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, you have a greater chance of developing kidney disease and should talk to your health care provider about getting tested.

African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians have a greater risk of developing kidney disease, mostly due to higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in these communities.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GET YOUR KIDNEYS CHECKED?

Many people don’t find out they have kidney disease until their kidneys are permanently damaged. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, you should talk to your health care provider about getting tested.

Your health care provider will help decide how often you should be tested. If you have diabetes, for example, you should get tested every year.

IS KIDNEY DISEASE HEREDITARY?

The main causes of kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, include a combination of factors, including your genes and lifestyle. A family history of kidney failure, as well as heart disease, also increases your chances of developing kidney disease.

WHAT CAN PEOPLE LISTENING DO TO KEEP THEIR KIDNEYS HEALTHY?

You can help protect yourself from kidney disease and its causes—diabetes and high blood pressure—by adopting a healthy lifestyle for your entire family. Try taking steps such as managing your blood pressure, making physical activity part of your routine, aiming for a healthy weight, and getting enough sleep – 7 to 8 hours each night.

This year, we’re encouraging people at risk to start the conversation with their health care provider by asking these three questions:

  1. Have I been tested for kidney disease and how healthy are my kidneys?
  2. How often should I get my kidneys checked?
  3. What should I do to keep my kidneys healthy?

Again, kidney disease usually has no symptoms, which is why it’s important for people who are at risk to get tested. Taking action now can help protect your kidneys.

HOW CAN WE HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT KIDNEY DISEASE AMONG COMMUNITIES MOST AT RISK?

For those who are part of a church community, NIDDK’s Kidney Sundays toolkit provides tips and tools to spread the word about kidney disease in your faith communities. The toolkit includes materials that can be used by anyone who wants to conduct a Kidney Sundays event or activity in their community. And Kidney Sundays don’t have to happen only during the month of March. Any Sunday can be a Kidney Sunday.

The NIDDK also developed the Family Reunion Health Guide to help African-American families talk about kidney health. As families plan their reunions – which often happen during the summer months – we hope they will consider incorporating these materials to educate their family members about kidney health. And NIDDK encourages people to use this health guide to educate not just family – but friends, too – about kidney disease throughout the year.

WHY IS IT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE WITH KIDNEY DISEASE DON’T KNOW THEY HAVE A PROBLEM?

It can be scary to talk about kidney disease, which is why we have developed some questions which can be used to help start a  conversation with a health care provider.

Here are three questions to help you start a discussion:

  1. Have I been tested for kidney disease, and what do my test results say about the health of my kidneys?
  2. How often should I get my kidneys checked?
  3. What should I do to keep my kidneys healthy or manage my kidney health

Dr. Rodgers answers your “Text Tom” questions on the next page. 

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