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What You Should Know About Kidney Disease and Aging
As you age, your kidneys begin losing function. While kidney disease, also known as chronic kidney disease or CKD, can develop during any stage of life, your chances greatly increase over the age of 60. In fact, researchers from John Hopkins University found that more than 50% of seniors over the age of 75 are believed to have kidney disease. It’s one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., but 90% of adults with kidney disease don’t know they have it. So, what can you do?
What is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease means your kidneys are losing the ability to filter your blood to keep you healthy. In the early stages of the disease, many people do not experience symptoms, which is why the disease often goes undiagnosed for a long time. But as the disease worsens, you may develop other problems such as high blood pressure, anemia, weakened bones, and nerve damage. Because the kidneys are vital to so many of the body’s functions, kidney disease also increases your risk of heart disease.
These problems can lead to kidney failure, suddenly and without warning. If your kidneys fail, dialysis or a kidney transplant is required to stay alive.
What are the Causes?
There are two main causes of kidney disease: diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions were the cause of 76% of kidney failure cases between 2015-2017. Over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, causing them to not work as well as they should. About 1 in 3 adults with diabetes have kidney disease, and around 1 in 3 seniors (aged 65 and older) have diabetes.
On the other hand, high blood pressure can constrict and narrow the blood vessels, reducing blood flow. This damages and weakens them throughout the body, including the kidneys. When your kidneys’ blood vessels are damaged, they are no longer able to remove waste and extra fluid from your body like they’re supposed to. Around 63% of seniors (aged 60 and older) have high blood pressure.
Smoking, obesity, heart disease, frequent use of medications that can damage the kidneys, having a family history of kidney disease, and being Black, Native American, or Asian American all increase your risk.
Know the Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of kidney disease often develop slowly, over many years. Loss of kidney function can cause a buildup of fluid or body waste. Depending on how severe it is, loss of kidney function can cause:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sleep problems
- Urinating more or less frequently
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling of feet and ankles
- Dry, itchy skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Many of these symptoms are nonspecific to kidney disease and can be caused by other illnesses or conditions as well. Because of this, you may not develop signs until irreversible damage has occurred. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
How to Prevent Kidney Disease
Taking preventative measures is the best defense against kidney disease since it often shows no distinct symptoms. There are several things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy.
- If you have diabetes, closely monitor your blood sugar.
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly.
- Get a kidney health check (blood test, urine test, and blood pressure check) at least every two years.
- Treat urinary tract infections immediately.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Do not smoke.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Eat a diet that is low in sugar, fat, and salt, and high in fiber.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get screened for kidney disease.
Talk to your doctor about your risk of kidney disease.