Living with Diabetes series

Kidney Health and Why It Is Important in Diabetes

Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of kidney disease with tips for prevention

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The kidneys are our body’s filtering system with millions of minute blood vessels that filter out approximately 200 quarts of blood including 2 quarts of extra water and waste products via urine. They also perform the role of producing some hormones, besides regulating blood chemical levels.

This filtering system can become damaged by diabetes, reducing kidney function. When waste products are not filtered out, the result is kidney disease.

While diabetes may be the prime cause of kidney failure, the symptoms of early kidney disease are not apparent. That doesn’t mean it can’t be detected — there are tests to check kidney function. The important thing is early diagnosis and timely treatment.

Treatment includes medication, diet changes, and managing blood sugar levels and blood pressure so that kidney damage can be prevented or at least slowed down.

How does diabetes cause kidney damage?

That diabetes mainly relates to abnormal blood sugar is something we know. When blood sugar is chronically high, the kidneys have to work harder to filter the blood. This puts a strain on them and damages them, interfering with their efficiency. As a result, protein escapes into the urine, which is the first sign that all is not well with the kidneys.

As the damage gets worse, it causes a rise in blood pressure. This in turn, stresses the kidneys causing even more protein to leak into the urine. The kidneys now become inefficient and waste products, which should exit the body, begin to accumulate in the blood.

How to recognize the warning signs of kidney disease?

Conditions like diabetes, hypertension or high blood pressure, an unhealthy lifestyle with processed foods dominating the diet, and excessive sugar consumption are precursors to kidney damage.

Watch out for the following signs

  • An unusual change in the frequency and amount of urination, changes in the color of your urine, and difficulty going.
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Blood in your urine
  • Swelling in the hands, feet, face, and ankles when the kidneys are unable to flush out the fluids
  • Continued exhaustion and weakness
  • Dizziness and inability to focus
  • Fever with chills
  • Skin rash with itchiness
  • Bad breath, with a metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Breathlessness
  • Back pain

While the above symptoms can belong to a number of conditions, it is best to get medical help when they show up.

Identifying kidney damage

Kidney disease symptoms are hard to catch in the early stages and the only way to find out is to go for blood tests and urine tests. Usually, the first symptom is fluid build-up. There can also be sleeplessness, poor appetite, an upset tummy, fatigue, and difficulty focusing.

Here are three tests that may be recommended:

Monitoring high blood pressure

High blood pressure may cause kidney damage and for those with diabetes, good blood pressure management is essential. A target of 130/80 is good, but the doctor is the best judge of what is the right one for the individual.

Getting urine tests to check for protein, creatinine, and albumin

Since protein can appear in the urine from kidney damage, this is tested. I remember, years ago, when my mom had to do this, we had to collect the urine for 24 hours and take it to the hospital lab. Now a one-time sample is adequate.

Assessing glomerular filtration rate

This tests the kidney’s efficiency to filter the blood.

High blood sugar is not the only culprit for kidney damage by diabetes

For those living with type 2 diabetes, there are other causes. The interaction between high blood sugar, blood pressure, inflammation, age, and genetics plays a role.

Left untreated, kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. This stage is called ERD or end-stage renal disease and its function may have to be performed by an external machine (dialysis) or even call for a kidney transplant.

Can diabetics prevent kidney damage?

Caught early, kidney damage can be treated.

  • Lifestyle changes help. This means healthy eating and regular exercise to keep the ABCs of diabetes under control — A1c or blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol since all three influence kidney health. Those who smoke are advised to quit.
  • Checking blood glucose and blood pressure regularly.
  • Medication to arrest or prevent kidney disease, especially for those with diabetes.
  • Cutting down on your salt intake. Excess salt in the diet raises your blood pressure while putting you at risk for kidney stones.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and flush toxins from the body. It also maintains your blood health, aids in digestion, and balances your body temperature. Aim to drink about one to one and a half liters of water daily.
  • When you have to go answer nature’s call, go! Don’t hold back when you need to pee. If you do, you prevent your kidneys from doing their job and inviting trouble in the form of stored waste that ought to go out. So give in to the urge to keep your kidneys functioning smoothly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If there is one thing that can keep you healthy, it is managing your weight. Ensuring you get enough physical activity not only burns calories but keeps the extra weight off, balances blood sugar, and keeps cholesterol levels in check.
  • Think twice before you pop a pill without a prescription. Everything we consume has to be processed by the kidneys and taking medication based on hearsay can be harmful. If you have a health problem, consult your doctor for professional advice. This includes “safe” herbal medicines and health supplements. Little knowledge is dangerous.

I remember seeing a poster at our doctor’s clinic that said something along the lines of — if the brain is dead, the person is not declared dead. But if the kidneys fail, the person is truly dead.

Take care of your health. Prevent kidney disease.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is purely for educational purposes only and does not substitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Writing about Self Improvement, Mindfulness, Meditation, Parenting, Health, Travel, Life, Books. Showing my diabetes who’s boss. Visit: