When they are healthy, our kidneys don’t often come up in conversation. We pretty much take them for granted and expect them to do their job as we got about our days. But when they aren’t healthy, our kidneys demand attention.
Each year, World Kidney Day—a joint initiative of the International Society of Nephrology (ISN) and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations (IFKF)—serves to bring some much needed attention and awareness to the kidneys. After all, 10 percent of the world’s population is affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD).
This year, the focus of the awareness event was chronic kidney disease and aging. Half of people age 75 and older have some degree of CKD. What’s more, not only is CKD incurable, if left untreated, it can progress into more serious health concerns that may not only threaten the life of the patient but are also a significant economic burden.
So, in the spirit of spreading awareness, let’s take a look at CKD.
CKD can be caused by any number of factors. High blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes are the most common causes of kidney disease. But other causes of the disease might be attributed to long-term blockages in the urinary system, polycystic disease, and infections or inflammation.
The number of deaths from kidney diseases is more than those from prostate and breast cancer combined. Although the risk of developing the disease increases as one ages (women are at greater risk), and in many ways is tied to other health conditions, CKD can strike a person of any age and of any ethnicity. Increased rates of hypertension and diabetes among African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and those from South Asia may explain why such groups are more susceptible to CKD.
The National Kidney Foundation reports that the cost of treating CKD increases at each stage of disease. Annual medical payments for a patient with kidney disease increase from $15,000 in stage 3 to $28,000 in stage 4 to more than $70,000 in stage 5. When combined for all patients, treatment of CKD in the United States is likely to exceed $48 billion per year, with Medicare patients representing approximately 63 percent of the costs at 30 billion annually. In addition to the direct costs involved in treating CKD, kidney diseases may trigger other health issues in a patient—like cardiovascular disease—that also carry a high economic burden and premature death or disability.
The good news is there are simple blood and urine tests that can detect CKD in those persons who may have an increased risk due to pre-existing conditions like diabetes or hypertension. Preventive screenings, along with lower-cost treatments could ultimately slow the progression of the disease, thus reducing the risk of associated heart attacks and strokes and improve quality of life.
Taking Action Today
As part of World Kidney Day’s awareness efforts, the general public was asked to start their day with a glass of water as a way to thank their kidneys. But we should thank our kidneys every day! It’s not too late to start thinking about your kidneys. It’s also not too late to take action. Ask your primary care provider if kidney screening tests might provide you with important information about your health.