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Keep Your Kidneys Healthy: Take Care of Your Diabetes and High Blood Pressure

If you are like most people with diabetes or high blood pressure, you didn’t get up this morning thinking that your behavior today could affect the health of your kidneys down the road. But if you skipped your medication, didn’t get any exercise or ate some high in fat sandwich or greasy slice of pizza, that’s exactly what you did.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are responsible for most cases of chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition that causes gradual loss of kidney function and which also increases risk for stroke and heart attack. The effects and progression of diabetes and high blood pressure, and therefore the risk for CKD, can be minimized with healthy diet, increased physical activity and medication. Unfortunately many people who have these conditions are not compliant. Diabetes and high blood pressure often do not present symptoms for years and when someone is feeling fine, making and sticking with lifestyle changes can be challenging.

How does diabetes affect the kidneys?

Every day, healthy kidneys filter up to two quarts of waste from the bloodstream that then leaves the body as urine. High blood sugar caused by diabetes affects these filtering abilities by damaging tiny blood vessels in the kidneys called glomeruli. This condition is called diabetic nephropathy and 40 percent of diabetics develop it.

How does high blood pressure affect the kidneys?

As it does to arteries throughout the body, high blood pressure can cause the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys to narrow, weaken and harden. It can also scar the kidneys. The damage that results also affects the kidneys’ filtering abilities and can lead to kidney failure, which is the final stage of CKD. At this point, unless they undergo dialysis or receive a kidney transplant, people with CKD die.

Between the United States and Canada, 28 million adults are estimated to have CKD. Millions of others are at increased risk but are unaware. By the time many people find out they have CKD, dialysis or kidney transplant are their only treatment options. Every day, 12 people die waiting for a kidney.

African Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans have the greatest risk for developing CKD, but no one is immune. Like diabetes and high blood pressure, CKD can be symptomless for years. Special blood and urine tests are necessary to detect the disease. Talk to your health care provider to make sure your annual checkup always includes these screenings.

There is no cure for CKD, but some of the very same recommendations for managing diabetes and high blood pressure can slow its progression. These include:

  • Always taking medication as prescribed
  • Eating meals and snacks that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar (Follow the DASH eating plan which focuses on fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and lean meats.)
  • Giving up smoking and all tobacco products
  • Getting regular exercise (talk to your health care provider before starting)

It is also important to let your health care provider know about any over-the-counter medications you are taking, as they can affect your prescribed treatment. These include vitamins and herbal supplements.

The LHSFNA offers a number of materials pertaining to diet, exercise and wellness that provide Laborers with guidance on making lifestyle choices that help protect against diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease. Order these and other health and safety materials developed by the Fund’s expert staff by clicking on Publications.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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