The latest figures show that 3 million people in the UK have Kidney Disease yet a huge 1 million of are not aware they have it. Understanding about the condition is still low – with many common misconceptions surrounding who is at risk, what symptoms to look out for, available treatments etc. prominent amongst the general public. So, leading Consultant Neurologist and Kidney Research UK Trustee, Dr Charlie Tomson tells us how we can take better care of them.
Eat less processed food and meat, and more fruit and vegetables
High blood pressure is one of the most important causes of progressive kidney damage. Diets that are high in salt (sodium chloride) increase the tendency to high blood pressure. Most dietary salt comes from processed food (including bread), rather than salt added during cooking or at the table. Diets that are high in potassium, which is found in fruit and vegetables, can reduce the tendency to high blood pressure. Some patients with advanced kidney damage have to reduce their potassium intake as well as their sodium intake, but for everyone else, the more fruit and vegetables, the better!
Stay at a healthy weight
A balanced diet is important for everyone, with the effects of unhealthy eating having an impact on several organs within the body, not just the kidneys! Being overweight or obese increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Both these conditions increase the risk of progressive kidney damage. Staying at a health weight can reduce the risk of such conditions developing, and in turn, reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Put some time aside to relax
As kidney disease can be caused by high blood pressure, and high blood pressure can be caused by stress, making sure you have chance to relax can help prevent your kidneys from becoming damaged. Try some relaxation techniques such as yoga and make sure you get a good night’s sleep regularly to help manage stress levels. This can also have a positive effect on overall health and wellbeing.
Regular aerobic exercise (ideally, strenuous enough to get you out of breath) helps to reduce the risk of getting overweight or obese, and helps to reduce blood pressure and the risk of diabetes. Even if it doesn’t help you lose weight, being fit can greatly reduce the risk of health problems, particularly ’cardiovascular’ disease, so don’t be put off if your exercise programme doesn’t lead to dramatic weight loss! Kidney disease often develops over a number of years and therefore, lifestyle changes today can help contribute to kidney health in the future.
It should go without saying, but if you are a smoker quit as soon as possible, as smoking can damage the blood supply to the kidneys as well as to the heart and brain. Nicotine replacement (e.g. e-cigarettes, nicotine chewing gum) is much less damaging to health than cigarettes, so if you can’t quit altogether, consider switching to one of these options.
Kidney disease is described as a ‘silent killer’, with symptoms often not materialising until the disease has reached its more advanced stages. People with a family history of kidney disease, and people with high blood pressure or diabetes, should already be offered regular blood and urine tests to check for early kidney disease. If you develop fluid retention (causing swelling of the ankles, or sometimes the face or arms), or very foamy urine (which can indicate excess protein in the urine), get checked straight away. Other symptoms of kidney disease (such as fatigue, breathlessness, increased frequency of urination, and loss of appetite), can also be due to many different problems, and your GP will help to decide which tests to do, but will often check kidney function as part of the basic checks. If diagnosed early on, kidney disease can in some cases be reversed, and as such, simply being knowledgeable about the disease can help prevent your kidneys from being damaged.
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