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Categories > Kidneys, Liver and Urinary Tract > Kidneys

A silent killer

Kidney disease can sneak up on you, and it can be deadly. In its early stages, kidney disease has no symptoms, so it usually isn’t diagnosed until right before the kidneys fail.

What’s behind kidney disease?

Your kidneys have the important task of removing waste from your blood. The waste leaves your body via urine. Your kidneys also help control blood pressure and help your bone marrow make red blood cells, which deliver oxygen throughout the body. When kidneys are damaged—most often by conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes—they can’t do these jobs efficiently. As the disease progresses, you may experience pain on the side of the affected kidney or any of the following symptoms:

  • less frequent urination with dark-colored urine
  • anemia
  • concentration problems
  • swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
  • itchy skin
  • nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite

Are you at risk?

If you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, a family history of kidney disease or kidney failure or if you’ve ever been told that you have protein in your urine, you’re more likely to develop the condition. Ask your healthcare provider about blood and urine diagnostic tests.

Keep your kidneys going

The following measures can help prevent problems or minimize the damage that kidney disease can cause:

  • Know your numbers. Make sure your blood sugar is under control—especially if you have diabetes. And keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg. A healthy diet and daily exercise can help. Your healthcare provider may prescribe blood pressure–lowering medications such as ACE inhibitors, which can also slow kidney disease’s progression.
  • Clean up your act. Quit smoking (it worsens kidney disease and interferes with blood pressure medications) and cut back on salt. Talk with your healthcare provider about your diet. He or she may suggest foods to avoid and those you need. He or she may also recommend restricting your protein intake, since eating too much protein can put undue stress on your kidneys.
  • Become a regular. If you have kidney disease, your provider will need to see you regularly to make sure your kidneys are working.

No matter what precautions you take, kidney disease may still result in kidney failure, which can be treated only with dialysis (a machine removes the waste from your blood) or a kidney transplant.