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Senior Health: Seniors should pay attention to kidney health …

Chronic kidney disease is a common clinical problem in the elderly and is the result of a combination of age and cardiovascular risk factors associated with the aging process. Kidney function declines in almost everyone as we age. That’s normal, but because CKD causes no symptoms until its later stages, it important to aware of the risk factors and symptoms in order to detect it early and better manage the condition.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

CKD is a label we use to describe the loss of kidney function due to injury or disease that damages the kidney. The most common causes of CKD include diabetes and high blood pressure. Less commonly, kidney damage can be caused by medications (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen), inflammation of the filtering units of the kidneys, obstruction of the urine flow or repeated infections.

Why is this illness such a health concern?

Kidneys play a vital role in maintaining the health of the human body. They filter and remove wastes, regulate fluid and chemical balance, and produce hormones important for red blood cell production and bone metabolism. CKD is a chronic and progressive process that can ultimately lead to premature death without treatment. Early intervention is very important as the progression of the kidney damage can in many instances be delayed or halted. Patients with kidney failure may eventually require dialysis or transplantation. Both dialysis and transplantation put a significant burden on patients and society at large because of financial and quality-of-life issues. Unfortunately, the incidence of CKD continues to rise as a consequence of the rise in predisposing conditions and the age of the population.

What are the complications of Chronic Kidney Disease?

CKD is really a systemic disease. Patients with advanced CKD face several serious complications including anemia, loss of bone density (osteodystrophy) and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and stroke). Additionally, one can experience marked fatigue, mental confusion, and loss of appetite.

Are some people more likely to develop chronic kidney disease?

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 30 million Americans have chronic kidney disease and millions of others are at risk to develop this disease. Seniors are at greater risk than most of the general population. The leading cause of CKD is diabetes. Other significant risk factors besides age are hypertension and family history of kidney disease. Also, some racial groups are more likely to experience CKD including African-Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

How can I know if I have chronic kidney disease?

It is important to know the symptoms of CKD and to consult your doctor as soon as these symptoms appear. Typical symptoms might include fatigue, problems concentrating, poor appetite, difficulty sleeping, muscle cramping at night, swollen extremities, dry itchy skin and frequent urination, especially at night. Your health practitioner can diagnose this disease with a few tests — blood pressure, blood tests and urine analysis. Early diagnosis and intervention can make a critical difference in control of this disease.

If I am at high risk of developing CKD, it is possible to avoid it?

If you are diabetic, careful control of your glucose can limit the potential of developing CKD. Just as careful monitoring and regulation of blood pressure is necessary among patients with hypertension. Patients with an early diagnosis of chronic kidney disease can also slow the progress of this disease with medications and a diet limiting sodium and proteins. Careful planning with a trained dietitian is necessary to ensure the proper nutritional balance is maintained.

Where can I learn more about Chronic Kidney Disease?

If you have questions about your risk of developing CKD ask your personal physician. Also, the National Kidney Foundation is a good source of information:

Dr. Douglas DeLong is chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Bassett Medical Center.

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