Understand the signs and keep your kidneys healthy

Millions of adults are living with kidney diseases and most of them are not even aware of it. While people regularly get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, they fail to get a “creatinine test” done to detect any unknown kidney problems. According to Global Burden Disease (GBD) study 2015, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is ranked as the 8th leading cause of death in India.

There are a number of physical signs of kidney disease, but sometimes people ignore or confuse them with other conditions (because of their non-specific nature). Therefore, one should be watchful of these symptoms (listed below) and get the confirmatory tests done without any delay. Also, the person should be sure to mention any symptoms they are experiencing to the Nephrologist. However, if a person suffers from Hypertension, Diabetes, CAD, or has a family history of the same or kidney failure, or even if you’re older than 60 years, it is advisable to get kidney tests done on regular basis.

While the only way to diagnose a kidney disease is to get confirmatory tests done, here are some early signs that indicate if a person may have ongoing kidney disease or a kidney infection:

Swelling in ankles, feet or legs: Decreased kidney function leads to sodium retention which may cause swelling in your feet, face, and ankles.

Periorbital Oedema: It is swelling or puffiness around eyes caused by the build-up of fluid in the cells or tissues. Besides various other reasons, it may develop as a symptom of a kidney disease too. Puffiness around eyes may indicate that your kidneys are leaking a large amount of protein in the urine, rather than keeping it in the body.

Weakness, fatigue, decrease in appetite: You may feel tired or more exhausted than on normal days. This is largely due to a build-up of toxins and impurities in the blood which results from poor kidney function.

Hemoglobin level falls (a person might look pale): One of the common complications of kidney disease is anemia. This can cause weakness and fatigue.

Changes in urine frequency: Urinary output may decrease or you may feel the need to urinate more often, especially at night. It can be a warning sign as this indicates the kidney’s filters are damaged. Sometimes this can also be a sign of some urinary infection or enlarged prostate in men.

Foamy urine or blood in urine: Excessive frothiness in the urine indicates protein in the urine. And, sometimes when the kidney’s filters have been damaged, the blood cells start to leak out into the urine. In addition to signaling kidney disease, blood in the urine can indicate tumors, kidney stones or any kind of infection. Also, pus associated with urine along with fever or chills can be serious.

Dry and itchy skin: Healthy kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from your body, and help make red blood cells which besides keeping bones strong maintain the right amount of minerals in your blood. Dry and itchy skin can be a sign of advanced kidney disease.

Backache or lower abdomen pain: Severe pain in back, side or below the ribs can be an early symptom of kidney stone. Similarly, lower abdomen pain can be associated with bladder infection or stone in the ureter (the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder).

Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy

Kidney diseases are usually silent killers as there may not be any noticeable symptoms during the early stages. However, there are several ways to reduce the risk of developing kidney disease. So, don’t wait until your kidneys are diseased. The following steps can help to look after the health of kidneys:

Drink plenty of water: This is the most common and simplest way to keep your kidneys healthy. Consuming plenty of fluids, especially water, helps the kidneys clear sodium, urea and toxins from the body.

Low sodium/salt diet: Keep your sodium (or salt) intake in control. This means you need to cut off packaged/restaurant foods too. Also, do not add extra salt to your food.

Maintain appropriate body weight: Eat healthily and keep your weight in check. Also, eliminate saturated fats from the diet and emphasize on having lots of fruits and vegetables daily.

Keep a regular control of blood sugar levels: Kidney damage in diabetic patients can be prevented if detected early. Therefore, it’s advisable to keep a regular check on your blood sugar levels.

Monitor blood pressure: In case you have a problem of hypertension, maintain a healthy lifestyle and make necessary dietary changes if possible. The normal blood pressure level is 120/80. High blood pressure can cause kidney problems besides leading to a stroke or heart attack.

Get kidney function tests and urine analysis done regularly: In case you have diabetes or hypertension or obesity, or if you are over 60 years get kidney tests and urine analysis done regularly. In case of even slightest protein detection in urine, make sure to visit your Nephrologist. Diabetics should be especially watchful of this.

The author Dr. Sudeep Singh Sachdev is a Consultant Nephrology at Narayana Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi.

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