Kidney Disease

This silent killer can be easily diagnosed

Kidney disease is a slow, silent killer that often goes undetected until it becomes a chronic condition requiring continuous management and medical care. Left untreated, kidney disease can lead to death because of its close association with other medical problems such as cardiovascular disease.

And seniors are especially at risk. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that 26 million Americans currently have chronic kidney disease; among seniors, one in five are affected.

Kidney function is essential to your overall health because it regulates water levels and eliminates waste and toxins from the body. Poorly functioning kidneys can lead to a host of health problems including high blood pressure, anemia, heart disease and even nerve damage.

Kidney disease can result from a number of causes: family history plays a role, but other common culprits include diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure.

Doctors can diagnose kidney disease quite easily with simple tests for blood pressure, urine albumin and creatine levels in the blood. The principal indicator of kidney health is the glomerular filtration rate, or GFR, which measures the flow rate of liquid that is filtered by the kidneys.

Except in the case of kidney stones, kidney disease is rarely marked by sudden, acute symptoms. Instead, it builds slowly and thus is often detected too late for effective preventative care. However, any combination of the following symptoms should be worth a trip to your family doctor:

  • loss of appetite;
  • general lethargy;
  • swollen ankles or feet;
  • insomnia;
  • low energy levels and trouble concentrating;
  • muscle cramps;
  • itchy, dry skin;
  • frequent urination, especially during the night.

Chronic kidney disease can eventually lead to kidney failure, which may require dialysis treatment or even a kidney transplant.

And although kidney disease affects adults of any age, the concern is heightened for seniors. That’s because kidney disease can exacerbate blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases and conditions that are more common in seniors. In fact, the leading cause of death in patients with chronic kidney disease is cardiovascular problems.

How can you improve your odds? The NKF urges Americans to drink at least 12 glasses of water a day, and warns that soda, coffee and tea are not equivalent replacements. You should also work at reducing salt intake, to help lower your kidneys’ workload.

For more information and support programs related to chronic kidney disease, contact the National Kidney Foundation in the U.S., or the Kidney Foundation of Canada.