An Ounce Of Prevention

While my goal is to pull together other patients who are coping with Chronic Kidney Disease in some form or another, I’d also like to reach out to you healthy people and ensure that you never have to join our ranks.

For all the advances in treatment options that may be coming down the road, do you know what still remains the best treatment for kidney disease?

Not getting it at all.

In this article I’ll share some common sense tips to help you steer clear of the avoidable types of CKD or at the very least, catch it early enough that you and your doctor have a chance to delay the progression of the disease or stop it altogether.

But I Feel Fine

And so did I. So…did…I. As a matter of fact I still feel great overall, knock on wood. Very often, kidney disease strikes with few to no symptoms. This is why it’s referred to as the silent killer, because often by the time you get diagnosed it has already progressed significantly. I was sliding into stage four when I got diagnosed and as it turns out, this is actually very common.

On the other end of the spectrum it’s also common to be diagnosed at a much earlier stage, especially as a child and have the disease progress over 20 to 30 years. In some cases it never gets past stages 1, 2, or 3. In others it continues a slow decline to end stage renal disease (ESRD). In other words, kidney disease can be very unpredictable.

The reason I mention all this is to point out a hard fact about kidney disease; it’s not always preventable. As a matter of fact, I’m not aware of any Nephrotic Syndrome diseases that are preventable. You’re either genetically predisposed to it or you’re not. For those who suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes, the two most common causes of kidney disease, there may be genetic traits that make them harder to prevent also. But for a large segment of the population, taking good general care of your health is all it takes to maintain a healthy blood pressure and keep diabetes at bay.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 1 out of every 3 people are at risk for kidney disease. That’s a huge number! It’s staggering to think about. I do believe that by taking better care of ourselves, that number could be improved significantly and the domino effect would begin. Less people getting kidney disease means less people having to live on dialysis which can lead to a whole host of other critical health issues (heart disease being one) as a result. It also means less people on the organ transplant list, helping to alleviate the scarcity issue we now face with only so many organs available for the 100,000+ people awaiting a transplant every year (and this number is growing).

So What Can I Do?

So you’re seemingly healthy and hopefully you’re not unknowingly dealing with failing organs. Whether or not you think of yourself as being at high risk, there are some basic practices everyone should be following.

Keep Regular Appointments With Your Doctor

This is huge because there are a lot of people who refuse to do this. This applies to people of all ages, but especially to those who are creeping into their 30s, 40s, and beyond. Regular blood work can alert you to any number of conditions you are at risk for. In hindsight I also recommend regular (at least yearly) urine labs. This will determine if you are beginning to leak blood or protein in your urine, something you won’t always notice with the naked eye. This is a common alarm bell for declining kidney function.

Regular check-ups are important for several reasons. The most obvious is it will help you catch a disease in it’s early stages, when there are far more treatment options. This is especially vital with kidney disease. I’m a firm believer that a lot of the more urgent and even fatal cases of kidney failure result from people not seeing a doctor on a regular basis, and even when their kidney function bottoms out and they finally start to experience symptoms, they ignore them until it’s too late. At that point if they do survive, they are immediately on emergency dialysis and the rest of the body takes a big hit. The kidney isn’t an isolated organ. When it stops working other systems and organs in the body start to fail too. The common cause of death for many with end stage renal disease is actually heart disease. Your heart is highly dependent on the work your kidneys do.

Another reason regular checkups are vital? Those lab results over time help establish a pattern, a roadmap of how you’re health is trending. Even though I couldn’t prevent my IgA Nephropathy, the fact that I had regular blood lab results we could refer back to was still extremely helpful. My nephrologist suspected that my kidney function had been steadily decreasing over a period of years, because hey, that’s how IgAN typically works. Because I had a spreadsheet with those results laid out, we were quickly able to pinpoint the recent six month stretch in which it happened. While it doesn’t change the disease itself in this case, knowledge is power.

And this advice isn’t limited to just heading off kidney disease. This goes for heading off all kinds of conditions. Anyone who refuses to see a doctor because “hey, I feel fine”, is just asking for trouble.

Diet

What you eat goes a long way towards determining your long term health. In today’s fast paced society, it is far too easy to rely on heavily processed, prepackaged foods, but it is important to minimize your intake of them. Once you lose your kidney function, such food products are a no-go because of the level of sodium required to preserve them.

The smart bet is to control your intake now and head off possible issues with obesity. If you are already overweight, this is a good first step towards reversing that trend. One of the things you will find is that weight control is a key factor in not only good overall health, but also in avoiding conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

I should add that high blood pressure and diabetes are both complex conditions that aren’t exclusive to overweight people. You can be as thin as a rail and still have genetic factors that make you susceptible to either. That said, obesity often leads people on the path to very serious conditions down the road and it’s best to get out ahead of it while you are still relatively healthy!

I recommend the same advice you’ve probably heard from a hundred other (far more qualified) people: Stick to a whole food diet with fresh fruits and vegetables as your base and work your way out adding reasonable amounts of fish, chicken, or tofu for protein. Keep red mean and pork based products to a minimum as well as carb heavy foods such as breads and pastas. I’ve found this has worked wonders for me, even if I had to learn it after my diagnosis. You don’t have to do that. Keep in mind I’m offering very basic guidelines here. Many people have different needs to take into consideration such as allergies and or existing conditions that prohibit you from eating certain foods. Obviously follow the advice of your physician or dietician. This is simply what has worked for me.

Exercise

Humans, like most animals, aren’t meant to be sedentary creatures. Yet many of us are whether we try to be or not. These days we often find reasons not to get exercise, but we need to resist that temptation. You don’t have to be an olympic athlete, you just need to get moving. Exercise in tandem with a good diet is the biggest tool you have to preventing and eliminating obesity. Your prospects for having a healthy heart also improve immensely as a result.

If you go to a gym, 30-45 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical 3 to 5 days a week can make all the difference in the world. Don’t have or want a gym membership? Fine, take a walk anywhere. At the beach, a park, around the block, downtown, you get the point. It doesn’t have to be high intensity. You just need to be mobile for even short stretches of time to break your body out of dormancy.

Sleep

I shouldn’t have to explain much here, but our bodies do a lot for us during our waking hours. We may not realize it but we are such high maintenance, needy little brats that we really stretch the systems that make up the human body to the limit. The least we can do is try to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep – preferably the latter, but the recommendations tend to change based on who you read – and give these systems a way to recover and to continue working for us while we are asleep.

Stress

This kind of ties in with sleep but it really is it’s own topic at the same time. Learn how to reduce and manage stress. Unless you are a career stoner, stress is just a natural fact of life for all of us. It happens and we can’t always choose whether or not we are going to experience it, but we can determine how we choose to handle it. It’s not easy to do day to day, and it is probably the most overlooked condition of everything mentioned in this article, but it’s imperative that you have your own methods and systems in place that you practice regularly. Get enough sleep obviously. Investigate other strategies that may involve exercise, meditation, yoga or other hobbies that enables you to let off steam and center yourself. Me personally, I like writing articles for my blog imploring people to manage their stress. It’s weird how that works.

In Summary

I realize with my recommendations above I’m not breaking any new ground or telling you anything you haven’t already been told a million times. I always paid pretty good lip service before my diagnosis and even began embracing these principles somewhat. But I never fully invested myself in them until after my life was changed. It’s not easy. This is why I can’t stress enough to start doing it while you’re still healthy, while you can still ease your way into it.

Pick one or two nights a week to cook a healthy meal based on whole foods, maybe limiting the frozen and canned stuff to one or two nights a week. Go out for a nature walk or just a walk around the block. Maybe bring your tablet one or two nights a week to the gym and spend 30 minutes to an hour on a treadmill while reading your favorite (ahem) kidney blog with articles from a guy who clearly should not be giving you medical advice.

It’s actually very easy to start. Trust me, the change in lifestyle over time will be totally worth it. And while kidney disease isn’t always preventable, many times it is! You owe it to yourself, your loved ones, and the temple you call a body to give yourself the best outcome possible.

Resource Links

Don’t forget to check out these sites for further information on kidney disease prevention:

Are you at risk? Take this quiz provided by the National Kidney Foundation:
https://www.kidney.org/phi/form?version=awareness

WebMD Article: Can You Prevent Kidney Disease?:
https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-kidney-disease-prevention

A good article from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/prevention

A kidney disease primer from the American Kidney Fund:
https://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/#how_can_i_prevent_ckd

Healthline article on prevention and causes:
https://www.healthline.com/health/kidney-health/how-to-prevent-kidney-failure#causes

Disclaimer: I can be considered a lot of things, but a medical professional is not one of them. The Internet is not a medical facility. Always make sure you consult with your physician before making any medical decisions.

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