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Kidney Health

Our kidneys are extremely important to our overall health. They clean our blood by working as a filter to remove water and wastes from our body. Kidney disease damages these filters so they don’t do their job properly and it can also damage other parts of our body such as the heart.

When your kidneys are damaged, the body fills up with excess wastes and water, called kidney failure. It often happens when you have had kidney disease for a long period of time. Kidney failure is fatal if not treated by either dialysis or a kidney transplant. The tricky part is that most kidney disease symptoms don’t show until the late stages.

If you are at risk of kidney disease, the Ministry of Health says “it’s best to get tested – that way you can catch chronic kidney disease early and help stop it from getting worse.”

Kidney disease is often discovered by chance, as many of the signs and symptoms are non-specific and may be attributed to other causes. Many symptoms are related to a change in urine, such as discomfort or burning when passing urine, passing blood, change in the frequency and quantity, needing to pass urine frequently at night or frothing or foaming urine.

Other symptoms may include pain in the loin area, ankle swelling, lethargy, lack of concentration, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting or pins and needles in the fingers and toes. Someone with kidney disease may experience some or all of these symptoms, and sometimes advanced kidney failure can be present without the presence of any symptoms or warning signs.

After kidney disease is confirmed, different tests determine the type and extent of kidney damage and the subsequent treatments that would be effective.

  • Blood tests - assess levels of a range of waste products, salts, minerals and glucose in the blood
  • Urine tests - look for substances in the urine such as blood, protein, glucose, red and white blood cells
  • Imaging - taking pictures of the kidneys to discover more about the disease process, through ultrasounds, CT scans, x-rays and other imaging techniques
  • Kidney Biopsy - removing a small portion of the kidney tissue for examination with a needle to examine under a microscope

Kidney Health New Zealand states diabetes is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease in New Zealand. Maori and Pacific people with diabetes have an increased risk of getting chronic kidney disease. According to the New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes 10-20% of people with diabetes die of kidney failure.

Over long periods of time diabetes causes damage to the filters in the kidneys. As they get more damaged they are not able to clean or filter the blood properly, causing wastes and extra water build up in your body, making you feel sick, tired and breathless.

If you’re at risk of kidney disease, a few lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, stopping smoking, eating less salt and drinking less alcohol can help to avoid the disease.

Get your kidney function checked if you have one or more of the ‘high risk’ factors

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Obese
  • One of your parents or other family members suffers from kidney disease
  • Of Pacific, African, Asian, or Aboriginal origin

How to lower your risk of kidney disease?

  • Monitor your blood pressure
  • Keep control of your sugar levels
  • Have your urine tested for protein every year
  • Make healthy food choices
  • If you are overweight, lose weight
  • Avoid becoming dehydrated
  • Avoid smoking
  • Regularly exercise
  • Only drink small amounts of alcohol
  • Control blood cholesterol levels with diet and medication as needed
  • Do not take non-steroidal medications such as Nurofen
  • Have urine infections treated immediately

Speak to your Fono GP if you experience any of these symptoms, and they can run tests to determine whether you are suffering from a kidney related illness.

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