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Diabetes And Kidneys

Diabetic nephropathy is a kidney disease caused by type 1 or 2 diabetes. Up to 50% of people with diabetes will eventually experience kidney damage, and they risk kidney failure without proper treatment. Fortunately, good diabetes management and effective prevention can delay or even prevent many problems.

What are kidneys for?

The kidneys are two fist-sized organs located near the back below the rib cage. Their job is to filter blood and eliminate waste through urine. They also regulate the amount of fluid and salt in the body, which is an essential part of controlling blood pressure.

What does diabetes do?

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease and failure in Canada. Over time, hyperglycemia and hypertension come to damage the tiny vessels in the kidneys that filter blood. This leads to a protein called albumin ending up in urine instead of being synthesized by the body. “Microalbuminuria” occurs when small amounts of albumin are found in urine, and “proteinuria” occurs when the amounts are larger. Basically, the body gets rid of useful proteins while keeping in waste and excess products. Kidneys then have to work harder to fulfill their role, which tires them out and can lead to kidney failure.

What are the symptoms?

Often, no one will notice anything wrong before kidneys start failing, which is why it’s so important to get tested regularly. However, there are some symptoms that can indicate a problem, including loss of sleep or appetite, stomach pains, weakness, difficulty concentrating, tiredness, swelling in the eyelids, hands or feet, vomiting, or generalized itching.

What are the risk factors?

Long-standing diabetes is one of the main risk factors alongside genetics, hyperglycemia, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking, among others.

How do you prevent diabetic nephropathy?

To prevent this condition, it’s essential that you maintain a healthy lifestyle as recommended by your physician. Try to keep your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels within optimal ranges. Limit your alcohol intake. If you smoke, quit. Eat healthy and exercise regularly.

How do you detect and treat diabetic nephropathy?

A urine and blood test analyzed in a laboratory can measure the presence of albumin and thus check on the condition of your kidneys. People with type 1 diabetes should undergo testing five years after their diagnosis and then once a year afterwards. As for people with type 2 diabetes, they should be tested when they receive their diagnosis and once a year thereafter.

If nephropathy is diagnosed in its early stages, your physician may design a treatment plan that combines lifestyle changes and medication (blood glucose and blood pressure control, exercise, medication to prevent kidney damage, quitting smoking and drinking, a healthy diet low in sodium and protein, etc.).

If, however, nephropathy is too advanced, or if the initial treatment fails, dialysis or a kidney transplant may be necessary.

As you probably guessed, prevention is key. Take good care of your kidneys and they’ll take care of you!

American Diabetes Association, “Kidney Disease (Nephropathy)”: Accessed February 14, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Kidney Disease”: Accessed February 14, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Nephropathy”: Accessed February 14, 2017.
International Diabetes Federation, “Diabète et maladies rénales”: Accessed February 14, 2017.
The Kidney Foundation of Canada, “Diabetes and Kidney Disease”: Accessed February 14, 2017.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “Diabetic Kidney Disease”: Accessed February 14, 2017.
WebMD, “Diabetic Nephropathy”: Accessed February 14, 2017.

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