The kidneys usually function at greater than 90 percent and this reduces gradually with age, which is normal and usually, there are no symptoms as this happens. Waste builds up in the body when the kidney fails to function optimally. The inability of the kidney to remove waste and excess fluid from the body could occur rapidly (acute kidney disease) or slowly over months and years (chronic kidney disease).

How can I tell if I have kidney disease?

Percentage kidney function (commonly known as GFR) is calculated using a simple blood test called creatinine. From this result, an estimate is made of how well both kidneys are working together.

On this basis, there are five stages of kidney disease, where stage five is end-stage renal disease or kidney failure.

There are usually no symptoms of kidney dysfunction as the GFR reduces, but below 20 percent function, wastes can start to build up in the blood and make us feel sick. Some of the signs and symptoms of late kidney disease include:

• Swelling of the feet or legs or a puffy face
• Tiredness and shortness of breath
• High blood pressure
• Nausea and poor appetite
• Dry, very itchy skin

With time, kidney disease will lead to weak bones, low blood count, nerve damage and a higher risk of getting heart disease. Kidney disease could progress to kidney failure; a person with kidney failure needs dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.

What causes kidney disease?

Anyone can get kidney disease at any age including children. There are many conditions that can harm the kidneys leading to kidney disease and these include diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and inherited diseases such as cystic kidney diseases.

Glomerulonephritis, Lupus and other diseases that affect the body’s immune system can also cause kidney disease.

Repeated infections, especially of the urinary tract and obstructions to the outflow of urine, such as an enlarged prostate gland in men can also harm kidney function.

Some pain medication such as ibuprofen and diclofenac can also harm kidneys, especially if taken over a long period of time.

Can I prevent kidney disease even when I am at higher risk?

It’s possible to prevent kidney disease and it is noteworthy that not everyone who is at risk of kidney disease will get it. You can reduce your chances of getting the disease by:

  • Checking on your blood pressure regularly.
  • Getting at least a yearly checkup of your kidneys (or more often for those at high risk) by doing a simple inexpensive creatinine test and a urine analysis.
  • Controlling your blood sugar if you are diabetic.
  • Losing weight if you are overweight and stop smoking if you are a smoker.
  • Making healthy food choices, keeping hydrated and exercising regularly.
  • Avoid taking over the counter supplements, unknown herbal medications, and body building supplements.