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September 15, 2021

One-third of Americans are in danger of developing kidney disease, but many don't know the risk factors

There are few clear signs or symptoms that the kidneys are about to malfunction, but certain conditions increase the likelihood

Illness Kidneys
Kidney disease risk factors Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Nearly one-third of Americans are at greater risk of developing kidney disease due to having diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity or a family history of kidney disease.

There are 37 million U.S. adults with kidney disease and many of them don't even know it. 

In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, there are few clear signs or symptoms that the kidneys are starting to malfunction. That's why the National Kidney Foundation is trying to reach out to the 1 in 3 Americans at risk of developing the disease.

About 80 million people have at least one of the five risk factors: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and a family history of chronic kidney disease. The foundation's "Are You the 33%?" campaign seeks to increase awareness of these risk factors and urges people to learn their risk levels. 

Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function. When the disease reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and wastes can build up in the body.

The primary job of the kidneys is to filter waste and extra water from blood, which produces urine, but they also have other vital roles. The kidneys balance the water, salts and minerals in the blood and release hormones that regulate blood pressure. They also produce vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones and red blood cell production.

When the kidneys aren't functioning properly, a lot of health ramifications can play out. 

Kevin Longino, chief executive officer of the National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant patient, said that the first step to preventing kidney disease is to understand your risk and to talk to your doctor about getting tested.

"Having kidney disease also puts you at greater risk of developing life-threatening complications from COVID-19, so learning your level of kidney health is extremely important," he added.

Poorly managed diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney disease. High blood sugar from diabetes can cause damage to the inside of the kidneys. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause the arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken or harden, affecting the blood supply to the kidney tissue.

Heart disease is another common risk factor. When the heart is not pumping enough oxygen through the body, it affects all organs, including the kidneys.

People of color have an increased risk for developing kidney disease. Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but represent 35% of kidney failure patients. They are almost four times more likely than white people to have kidney failure. Hispanic people are 1.3 times more likely than others to develop kidney failure.

"Approximately 785,000 Americans have kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive," said Dr. Sylvia Rosas, president-elect of the National Kidney Foundation and a nephrologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

Nearly 100,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. The average wait time is 3-7 years.

"We must urgently transform understanding risk into taking actions to help millions of Americans who have any of the five risk factors," Rosas added. "Patients should also ask their doctors about two simple tests to diagnose kidney disease: a specific urine test, called uACR, and a calculated blood test, called eGFR."

To find out if you are at risk for developing kidney disease, you can take an one-minute online quiz.

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