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Understanding Kidney Disease

Understanding Kidney Disease -- Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Disease?

Blood and urine tests can help uncover signs of early kidney disease and monitor the condition.

  • Blood pressure. Your health care provider will devise a plan, which may include diet changes and medications, to keep your blood pressure as close to normal as possible. Target blood pressure is defined as less than 130/80.
  • Blood electrolytes. When the kidneys are not working correctly, you can develop high potassium and low calcium, phosphorus, bicarbonate, which can affect your heart’s conduction system and cause muscle aches and other complications.
  • Urine protein or albumin in the urine. Albumin is the main protein in the blood. When the kidneys become damaged, the holes in the filtering system of your kidneys become enlarged, allowing protein to leak into the urine. In the early stages of kidney damage, only small amounts of albumin (microalbuminuria) are found. This test is very important for people with diabetes because at this early stage of kidney damage, further deterioration can often be prevented by diet, exercise, and medications.
  • GFR (glomerular filtration rate). This is a measure of how well the kidneys are filtering blood. An estimate of your "filtering rate" is determined by a blood test called a blood creatinine test, which measures the amount of creatinine -- a waste product -- in your blood. This test, along with your age, body size, and gender, provides an estimate of your GFR. The GFR, or "filtering rate," helps confirm normal or low kidney function. A score of 90 or above is normal; a score below 15 indicates kidney damage that will require dialysis or a kidney transplant. Another commonly used test to estimate GFR is a creatinine clearance. This test measures the creatinine in the blood and urine to determine kidney function.

Your health care provider may also refer you to a kidney specialist, called a nephrologist, for more specialized testing. A kidney biopsy may also be performed. During a kidney biopsy a small amount of kidney tissue is removed for microscopic exam to pinpoint the cause of kidney damage and plan treatment.

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