Kidney Disease: Early Detection and Treatment

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Many Americans know nothing about kidney disease—until it's too late. "Unlike many diseases, kidney dis...
Many Americans know nothing about kidney disease—until it's too late. "Unlike many diseases, kidney disease often has no symptoms until it is very advanced," says Andrew Narva, M.D., Director of the National Kidney Disease Education Program (NKDEP) a part of the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). "For this reason and others, it is important for people to not only become aware of their risk, but also to learn about the steps they can take to keep their kidneys healthier longer. An important step is to get tested." That testing is even more important for populations that are at higher risk for kidney disease, such as African Americans, adds Dr. Narva. How can you tell if you are at risk for kidney disease? Ask yourself these questions: Do you have diabetes (problems with your blood sugar)? Do you have high blood pressure? Do you have heart disease? Did your mother, father, sister, or brother have kidney disease? (Kidney disease runs in families.) If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are at risk for kidney disease. Now is the time to get tested. Your health care provider will order two simple tests to check your kidneys—a blood test to check your glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and a urine test to check for protein. GFR—A blood test measures how much blood your kidneys filter each minute, which is known as your GFR (glomerular filtration rate). This shows how well your kidneys are working. A GFR of 60 or higher is in the normal range. A GFR below 60 may mean you have kidney disease. You can't raise your GFR, but you can try to keep it from going lower. Urine Protein—A urine test checks for protein in your urine, which can be a sign of kidney disease. Protein can leak into the urine when the filters in the kidneys are damaged. This test has several different names, including a check for "proteinuria," "albuminuria," or "microalbuminuria." It can also be called a "urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio."