Some loss of kidney function occurs naturally over time, usually after age 60. For African Americans, the leading cause of kidney disease or kidney failure is not old age; it is having high blood pressure or diabetes.
Any of the three problems can exist initially (when it is easier to treat) without any outward symptoms. In addition, all three of them can kill you.
High blood pressure causes artery damage, and the kidneys are artery-rich. Over time, uncontrolled hypertension can cause the arteries around the kidney to narrow, weaken or harden, and they will be unable to deliver enough blood to the kidney tissue. The American Heart Association said damaged arteries are unable to filter blood very well. While healthy kidneys produce a hormone to help the body regulate its blood pressure, damaged kidneys from high blood pressure are on a downhill spiral.
Diabetes causes damage to nerves and blood vessels. Those small blood vessels in the kidneys, when damaged, cause persons to retain more water and salt than necessary, leading to weight gain and ankle swelling, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). When the body has high levels of blood sugar, it makes the kidneys overwork and eventually filter too much blood, said the American Diabetes Association. After many years, those filters in the kidneys start to leak useful protein into the urine. The overwork can cause the kidneys’ filtering ability to give out, and waste products build up in the blood, leading to kidney failure or end-stage renal disease, which can only be treated by kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle and managing diabetes can reduce or prevent the chances of developing kidney disease.
"High blood pressure is more prevalent in African Americans so it is the leading cause of kidney disease in this population," said Marie Philipneri, M.D., a nephrologist and associate professor at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
Family medical history is also factor in kidney disease.
Philipneri suggests persons with no known risk factors should at least have their blood pressure and blood glucose checked to see if they have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or issues with kidney function.
Screening for kidney disease is straightforward.
"You do a blood test; a urinalysis will tell us if there is any protein in the urine, blood in the urine or any abnormal sediments," Philipneri said. "We check the protein to creatinine ratio and that gives us an idea whether you have kidney disease or even late [stage] kidney disease."
Experts say normal creatinine levels range between 0.7 to 1.3 mg/dL for men and 0.6 to 1.1 mg/dL for women.
Additionally, using the class of over-the-counter medications can tax the kidneys. Long-term use of pain medications known as NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which have fever and pain reducing properties, can cause chronic kidney disease. Meds in this class include common medications like ibuprofen, Motrin, Aleve and naproxen, Philipneri said. Persons with kidney disease as well as other health issues should follow their doctor’s advice before using OTC medications.
"And you also need to be very careful about what supplements you take, especially the not so-well-studied drugs and supplements," Philipneri added.
The NKF has lists of herbal supplements that may be toxic to the kidneys, harmful when you have chronic kidney disease and some herbs that are known to be unsafe for everyone. Find them at http://bit.ly/1i04HFP.