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How to Protect Your Kidneys When You Have Diabetes

By
And Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature

When you have diabetes, it's key to take care of your kidneys. They do an important job filtering waste and removing it from your blood. Diabetes can hurt the kidneys and cause them to stop working. It's the main cause of kidney failure.

How Diabetes Damages Kidneys

With diabetes, you have high blood sugar. Those high levels make your kidneys work extra hard to filter your blood. Over time, working that hard can damage your kidneys, causing small amounts of protein to leak into your urine.

Damage can get worse, and more protein leaks into your urine. Your blood pressure can start to rise. Waste materials will build up in your blood. If you don't treat it, your kidneys won't work anymore. If your kidneys fail completely, you'll need to have your blood filtered by a machine (dialysis) or have a kidney transplant.

Can You Tell If You Have Kidney Damage?

There are very few symptoms of kidney disease until your kidneys have almost stopped working.

One of the earliest signs is fluid buildup. You might have swollen ankles, weight gain, or you may pee more often. You may also have a hard time sleeping or concentrating. You may not be hungry, or you may have an upset stomach. You may just feel weak.

These symptoms aren't very specific. That's why it's important to see your doctor regularly for these kidney-related tests if you have diabetes.

  • Blood pressure. High blood pressure can be a sign of kidney problems. You should have yours checked at every health care visit. Your doctor will tell you what levels are healthy for you.
  • Blood tests. The estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) checks how well your kidneys are able to filter your blood.
  • Urine tests. Your doctor will check for levels of protein, creatinine, and albumin. These levels can show signs of kidney damage.

Treatment for Kidney Disease

If you have diabetes and kidney damage, there are things you can do to treat it and stop it from getting worse.

Lifestyle changes. Eating healthier and getting regular exercise can improve your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. That will affect how hard your kidneys have to work. Your doctor may suggest cutting back on protein, salt, and fat in your diet.  It's also smart to watch how much alcohol you drink. If you smoke, stop.

Medicine. Drugs called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can help control your blood pressure and slow kidney damage if you have diabetes. Be careful about taking too many painkillers. Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen every day can lead to kidney damage.

Monitoring. Check your blood glucose regularly at home so you can keep your diabetes in check. You may also want to track your blood pressure so you can control it if it gets high.

Reviewed on February 11, 2015
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