Kidney Disease Screenings: What You Need to Know

They’re not just in your back—they’ve got your back.

That’s one way to think about your kidneys, the fist-sized, bean-shaped organs that are silently at work filtering waste and excess water out of your blood 24/7. (The waste is then released as urine.) The kidneys’ other life-supporting duties include maintaining a healthy balance of certain chemicals, such as potassium and sodium.

How often, if ever, have you discussed the health of your kidneys with your primary care doctor? We thought so…  It happens that March 10 is World Kidney Day, a good time to raise your awareness and learn more about kidney health.

While people with kidney disease are living longer and have better treatment options, screening for kidney disease—even among people with risk factors—remains low, as does awareness about life-threatening kidney conditions, according to the from the U.S. Renal Data System’s annual report.

‘Some Have a Higher Risk Than Others’

“Anyone can get kidney disease at any time, but some have a higher risk than others,” says Deepa Sharma, D.O., a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care in Coral Gables. “We want to have early detection.”

Determining your risk and whether you should be screened with a simple urine and blood test as part of your routine checkup is something to discuss with your doctor, Dr. Sharma says. Risk factors include a family history of kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and age. As people get older, their risk for kidney disease increases.

“If you are at risk or over age 60, you should be screened,” Dr. Sharma says. “We do two simple tests in the primary care setting.”

A urine test looks for protein. “Protein should be in the blood, not in the urine. If protein is detected, it means the filters aren’t working as they should and it could be an early sign of kidney disease,” Dr. Sharma explains.

The other way a primary care doctor screens for kidney health is with a blood test for creatinine levels. Creatinine is a waste product from muscle metabolism that the kidneys filter from the blood. “If the kidneys are damaged, it’s hard for them to take creatinine out of the blood,” she says.

An estimation of the kidney’s glomerular filtration rate, or GFR, can be made using the blood creatinine level with a formula that includes age, weight, race and gender. “GFR tells us how well your kidneys are functioning,” Dr. Sharma says.


Referral to a Nephrologist (Kidney Specialist)

If blood and urine tests suggest abnormal kidney function, Dr. Sharma refers her patient to a nephrologist, or kidney specialist. “We try to aim for early intervention so we can optimize the patient’s kidney health, and general health, and start treatment earlier rather than later.”

She says the best way for people to stay on top of their kidney health is to be familiar with their other routine screenings, including blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

“The most important thing we can promote is for our patients to know their numbers,” she says.

People with high blood pressure and high blood sugar may have cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which can damage the kidneys. “The kidneys are made up of blood vessels; any diseases that damage blood vessels [such as high blood pressure and diabetes] are going to damage the kidneys,” Dr. Sharma explains. “So we want to make sure we’re watching out for those risk factors.”

Medications, Supplements Can Affect Kidneys

Another thing to keep in mind is that common medications and supplements can affect the kidneys. For example, over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen and aspirin should not be taken if kidney function is not normal, Dr. Sharma says.

“Patients should make sure they bring a list of all the medications and supplements they’re taking for their doctor to review to see if any of them can affect their kidneys,” she says.

To keep your kidneys healthy, Dr. Sharma suggests following good lifestyle habits, including drinking about eight cups of water daily, eating a balanced and healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.

For more information about kidney health, including healthy recipes, patient and family resources, prevention and advocacy, visit the National Kidney Foundation website.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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