Do you know what’s going on with your kidneys? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. According to research from the National Kidney Foundation, around 37 million American adults — roughly one in seven — have some form of chronic kidney disease (CKD), and 90 percent of those who do aren’t even aware of it. These numbers have gone up in recent decades, as have the number of more severe cases. Luckily, the more you know about how to prevent it and what early signs look like, the easier it is to keep it at bay or stop it from progressing over time.
What is chronic kidney disease?
Your kidney’s main function is to act as a filter in your body, which includes balancing vitamins and minerals that come through the bloodstream, getting rid of wastes, managing your blood’s pH, and aiding in red blood cell production. This work is all done by the kidney’s nephrons, which are tiny filters that make up the organ.
Chronic kidney disease is when there’s scars or damage to the nephrons that prevent them from doing their job properly. This can be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, and more. Smokers and people who are medically obese have a higher likelihood of damaging their kidneys over time.
What are common symptoms?
If kidneys are damaged, they’re not able to properly get rid of toxins and manage other important compounds in the blood, which can lead to a range of short-term health problems, like nausea, swelling, numbness, bone pain, bloody stools, insomnia, and more.
As CKD progresses, eventually the kidneys can’t filter the body’s blood on their own anymore and shut down. People at that stage of kidney failure need a process called dialysis regularly to clean the blood, which is expensive and time-consuming.
What can you do to prevent it?
Chronic kidney disease prevention may sound daunting, but there are several incredibly easy lifestyle changes you can incorporate into your daily routine to decrease your risk of getting it. Those include:
- Seeing your doctor for regular checkups and getting a kidney screening once every three years or so, especially if there’s a history of chronic kidney disease in your family.
- Drinking the recommended eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day to keep your body hydrated.
- Exercising or being active for at least 30 minutes a day for at least three or four days per week. Even a half-hour walk counts!
- Keeping an eye on your salt intake. If you can, replace salt in recipes with other spices that’ll not only give your food more flavor, but also lower the amount of sodium you’re consuming.
- Making sure you’re adding tons of fruits, veggies, and whole grains in your diet. Try to only eat processed meals and snacks with added sugar and sodium in moderation.
- Quitting smoking if it’s a habit for you.
While these tweaks are a start, it’s also important to talk to your doctor about any kidney concerns and to bring up any potential symptoms you may have noticed. The earlier you mention it and start tracking symptoms, the easier it is to come up with a plan to prevent further issues!
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First For Women.