Did you know that 1 in 10 Americans has diabetes and that diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease? Over time, diabetes can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the blood vessels in your kidneys, which is known as diabetic kidney disease. If diabetic kidney disease is not treated early, the damage can eventually lead to kidney failure. In fact, diabetes causes almost half of all cases of kidney failure.
The American Kidney Fund’s (AKF) has lots of information about the relationship between diabetes and kidney disease, as well as tips for preventing or slowing down the progression of diabetic kidney disease.
How can I prevent diabetic kidney disease?
Diabetic kidney disease does not happen overnight, and having diabetes does not necessarily mean that your kidneys will become damaged. If you know you have diabetes, there are things you can do to prevent diabetic kidney disease:
- Control your blood sugar. Keeping your blood sugar within a healthy range is the best way to prevent diabetic kidney disease. Managing your blood sugar means that your kidneys will not have to work as hard to remove high levels of sugar from your blood, saving them from the blood vessel damage that causes diabetic kidney disease. Ask your doctor to tell you what a healthy blood sugar range is for your body and how often you should check your blood sugar to make sure you are staying within that range.
- Control your high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney disease, so having both diabetes and high blood pressure put you at higher risk. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important to check your blood pressure at home twice per day and take your blood pressure medicine(s) as your doctor prescribed. If you do not know whether you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor during your next visit and discuss ways to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
- Control your cholesterol. When combined with diabetes, high cholesterol—a waxy, fat-like substance in your blood—can make you more likely to get kidney disease, as well as get heart disease or have a stroke. There are two types of cholesterol—HDL (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol)—and you want to make sure you have healthy levels of each in your body. Your doctor can tell you what your cholesterol levels are. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend taking a cholesterol medicine.
- Eat healthy. Eating healthy foods can help you maintain a healthy blood sugar and manage your diabetes. You can also try eating smaller, more frequent meals, rather than large breakfasts, lunches and dinners. You can find healthy and kidney-friendly recipes here.
- Stop using tobacco. Quit smoking or chewing tobacco to lower your chance of getting kidney disease.
- Get moving. Staying active and exercising for at least 30 minutes five days per week can help you control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. While that may seem like a lot if you are currently active, do not worry—it does not mean you have to start hitting the gym every day or training for a marathon. Small changes you can make to get in your 30 minutes of exercise can include: parking at the far end of the parking lot instead of the spot closest to the door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator in your apartment building, having a dance party with your kids or grandkids and taking a walk after dinner with a family member or friend.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control your blood sugar and blood pressure, which will lower your chances of getting kidney disease. Your doctor can tell you the ideal healthy weight for your body. If you are overweight, losing even just a few pounds can make a big difference for your health.
How can I keep existing diabetic kidney disease from getting worse?
Since any damage that has already been done to your kidneys is irreversible, it is very important that you carefully manage your diabetes to keep your kidney disease from getting worse. If you already have diabetic kidney disease, you can use the above steps to help slow down the progression to kidney failure, as well as:
- Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can work with you to help you keep your diabetes under control and stop your kidney function from decreasing or slow down the rate at which it is decreasing. If you are unsure of how to bring up the subject or do not know what to say to your doctor, you can download AKF's Know Your Kidneys “talk to your doctor” discussion guide to get started.
- Know about treatments for diabetic kidney disease. While there is no cure for kidney disease, there are new medicines available that can help slow down or stop the progression to kidney failure. Talk to your doctor about whether one of these medicines may be right for you. If you have already been prescribed any medicines for your diabetes or kidney disease, you must take them as instructed by your doctor to help keep both conditions from getting worse.