5 Steps to Preventing Kidney Disease Before It Starts

Know Diabetes by Heart Professional Resources

You may have heard if you have type 2 diabetes, you have an increased risk of kidney disease, often called chronic kidney disease or CKD. Here, we explain what you need to know about preventing kidney disease, how your heart and kidney health is connected and the role of regular screenings. Read on to learn how to take care of your kidneys and lower the risk for heart disease when living with diabetes.

What Causes Kidney Failure?

To understand what causes kidney failure, it’s important to understand how healthy kidneys function and what purpose they serve.

The kidneys are amazing organs that work hard to filter our body’s blood. With thousands of tiny blood vessels, our kidneys act as a full-body filtration system. They separate waste products from essential substances like protein and red blood cells in the body.

Kidney failure occurs when this system breaks down and useful bodily substances, like protein, are unintentionally expelled. Protein is necessary for the body’s tissues and organs—and we need it to survive. When the filtering system is in the early stages of protein loss, it is called microalbuminuria. More extensive breakdown is known as macroalbuminuria.

Thankfully, you can test kidney function to find out about problems early—and make changes to prevent kidney disease with a simple screening.

How Are the Heart, Kidneys and Diabetes Connected?

Your kidneys are part of your cardiovascular system and type 2 diabetes can put a lot of stress on both your heart and your kidneys. To stay healthy, it’s important for you and your doctor to keep tabs on your risk for problems in both your heart and kidneys and to take care of problems you may have.

What Is a UACR Screening?

Our bodies need protein to build muscle, fix tissue and fight infection. But it should be in the blood, not urine, where protein is lost if you have kidney damage. People with a high amount of protein (albumin) in their urine have an increased risk of kidney disease. In these cases, dialysis may be needed to survive. The urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR) is a simple test that shows whether albumin is present in the urine.

A UACR test can be an early sign of kidney damage and should be part of your annual screenings if you are a person with type 2 diabetes.

What are the Symptoms of CKD?

If you have had diabetes for many years, you could have kidney damage and not even know. High blood glucose (blood sugar), high blood pressure and diabetes-related complications contribute to kidney disease.

Unfortunately, recognizing early-stage kidney disease by checking for symptoms is usually not possible. This is because our kidneys will overwork themselves to make up for the early damage, and you may not have symptoms until nearly all function is gone. Any symptoms you may have wouldn’t make you think it’s kidney disease. This is why it is so important to see your doctor regularly and get checked, annually.

Does Everyone With Diabetes Develop Kidney Disease?

Many people ask if being diagnosed with diabetes automatically means they’ll struggle with kidney disease, and the answer is no. Factors that can influence kidney disease development include genetics, long-term high blood glucose and high blood pressure.

It is important to see your doctor regularly and maintain an ongoing conversation about your health. The better you’re able to keep your diabetes and blood pressure under control, the lower your chance of getting kidney disease. When you schedule a UACR screening, your doctor will check your blood pressure, your urine protein ratios and talk with you about lifestyle prevention steps.

What can I do for Prevention?

AHA 5 Steps to Preventing Kidney Disease Before It Starts

1. Understand risk factors

When you’re living with diabetes, high blood glucose levels can cause your kidneys to work harder. Over time, kidney failure is more likely to occur.

AHA 5 Steps to Preventing Kidney Disease Before It Starts

2. Be Proactive

If you develop kidney disease, it is likely that you’ll have little to no symptoms until almost all function is gone. Have a discussion with your doctor about how to protect your heart and kidneys. Regular UACR screenings are key to early detection. When kidney disease is diagnosed early, several treatments may keep it from getting worse.

Diabetes and Heart Disease

3. Manage your blood sugar and blood pressure to keep them in your target range

Blood sugar management can reduce the risk of early-stage kidney failure by one-third and may reduce the risk of early stages of kidney disease to more severe kidney disease by half. Some studies have shown tight management can even reverse the early stages.

Know Diabetes by Heart Doctor-Patient Living with Type 2 Diabetes

4. Talk to your your health care team about any special needs you may have

Some treatments used may limit certain types of foods you eat. Always talk with your health care team before changing your diet.

Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease Management

5. Get regular screenings

Ask your doctor for a UACR screening once a year if they haven’t scheduled one. This simple urine test is often overlooked but can mean the difference between staying healthy and avoiding dialysis. Your doctor can check your blood pressure, eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate), urine protein ratios and talk with you about lifestyle prevention steps.

If you have diabetes, there are simple, preventative steps you can take to lower your risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about how to keep your heart healthy and about getting regular UACR screenings to help you understand the health of your kidneys.