My name is Dr. Jen Gunter and I have kidney disease

Today is world kidney day.

We hear a lot of about cancer and heart disease in the press, but kidney disease doesn’t seem to trigger much thought, unless it is an article about transplantation (especially when it involves the kindness of a virtual stranger giving up a kidney so that another person can lead a healthier and more productive life).

I admit to thinking about kidneys more than the average. A congenital health problem led to a nephrectomy, removing a kidney, when I was 11 years old. In those days that meant an incision that wrapped almost from the belly button in front all the way around to almost the middle of the back. Yes, I have a very large scar. My single kidney has mild impairment, but I consider myself lucky. My kidney function has remained stable for more than 30 years.

But we should probably all think about kidney disease just a little bit more. It affects 13% of American adults (20 years and older). That’s 26 million people, and two-thirds of them have advanced kidney disease.

Kidney disease is increasing in America. That is because the two biggest causes, high-blood pressure and diabetes, are on the rise. Another fall out of our obesity epidemic. A staggering 40% of people with diabetes will develop kidney disease. However, there are many other causes of kidney disease including medical conditions that affect the body’s immune system (like lupus), medications, genetic conditions, birth defects (like mine), repeated kidney infections, and obstruction of urine flow from an enlarged prostate or kidney stones.

Like every medical condition, prevention and early detection are both key.

What can you do today to prevent kidney disease?

1. See your doctor for regular check ups. Catching high blood pressure early and treating it will protect your kidneys.

2. Ask your doctor how often you should be screened for diabetes. It varies based on your risk. Take this test through the American Diabetes Association and see if you are due for testing.

3. If you are overweight do your best to lose even 5-7% of your body weight. Talk with your doctor to find out an optimal weight for you. Losing even a small amount of weight will lower your risk of diabetes.

4. If you have high-blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney disease, or a medical condition that can affect your kidneys (such as lupus), get screened for kidney disease.

It’s good to raise awareness, but considering how common kidney disease is it’s probably a good idea to think about your kidney’s more than once a year.

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