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Kidney Disease
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You feel tired all the time. Your skin itches. It might be allergies, because taking an antihistamine helps, but you have never had allergies before. You are off your feed, too. Eating makes you feel nauseous. Your clothes seem looser. It is not like you set out to lose weight, but you are not complaining. If this sounds like you, call your doctor. You may be one of the 20 million Americans suffering from kidney disease.

Kidney disease can be prevented or treated if caught early, before your kidneys fail. By the time you start showing symptoms, it may be too late. Damage may be irreversible. Kidney disease is often silent. Generalized itching, nausea, fatigue and unintentional weight loss may be the first warning that your kidneys are about to quit working. Then you have three choices: dialysis, a kidney transplant, or death.

What causes kidney failure? Sometimes it is genetics, a family history of kidney disease. More commonly, kidney failure can be triggered by hypertension—high blood pressure, or diabetes. Every year, hypertension causes more than 25,000 new cases of kidney failure in the United States. Thirty percent of all people with juvenile-onset (Type I) diabetes will experience kidney failure. Ten to forty percent of those with adult-onset (Type II) will eventually have kidney failure.


Healthy kidneys clean your blood and balance blood chemistry. They regulate potassium, sodium, and phosphorous levels. Kidneys use filters, called nephrons. They return water and necessary nutrients back to the body as blood passes through them, but catch wastes and excess water, which are sent to the bladder. Nephrons are delicate. Hypertension can rupture the small blood vessels in the nephrons. Hyperglycemia. an excess of sugar in the blood caused by diabetes, can kill nephrons. A kidney has one million nephrons. Kill enough of them, even slowly, over time, and the kidneys stop working.

Kidney disease can be detected before serious damage occurs with a simple urine test—one routinely given in an adult physical. Once detected, it can be treated so that further damage is arrested. Once the kidneys fail, life become much more difficult. Generally kidney damage is permanent. A kidney transplant will give you functioning kidneys if you find a donor. There are only 12,000 transplants done each year.

The other option is dialysis—mechanical cleaning of your blood. Patients are plugged into a dialyzer, and their blood is circulated through a mechanical kidney. The machine cleans blood much the same as real kidneys, by filtering blood through a permeable membrane, and trapping wastes. 

In the United States today, 16 million people suffer from diabetes. Perhaps 65 million suffer hypertension. Incidents of diabetes and hypertension increase as people age, especially once someone passes forty.

Get tested annually, if you are over forty. If the tests show problems, get treatment. It may keep you from becoming tethered to a dialysis machine.

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By Mark N. Lardas, copyright 2007, Mark N. Lardas, all rights reserved. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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