Kidney disease is a serious disease that affects up to 1.7 million Australians, but many people living with early signs of the disease are unaware, as they might not experience any symptoms in the early stages.
The incidence of kidney disease in Australia is growing, with the number of Australians receiving kidney replacement therapy (dialysis or transplant) more than doubling over 20 years, from 11,700 in 2000, to 27,700 in 2020, according to the latest Australian Institute of Health Welfare report.
Chronic kidney disease refers to conditions of the kidney affecting the filtration and removal of waste from the blood for three months or more. The AIHW report, Chronic kidney disease: Australian facts, shows 14,600 Australians receiving kidney replacement therapy were on dialysis; and 13,100 had functioning kidney transplants that required ongoing follow up care.
Chronic kidney disease is a growing public health issue and about one in three Australians has an increased risk of developing this disease. The problem is compounded with the growing ageing population, as more than 44 per cent of people over the age of 75 have an indicator of the disease.
Kidney failure is the most severe form of chronic kidney disease. It occurs when the kidneys can no longer function adequately, at which point people require either dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive.
Chronic kidney disease is called a ‘silent disease’, as often there are no warning signs and it is not uncommon for people to lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before any symptoms are apparent.
Chronic kidney disease is mostly diagnosed at more advanced stages, when symptoms become more apparent.
Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys can no longer function adequately, at which point people require kidney replacement therapy – a kidney transplant or dialysis – to survive.
Chronic kidney disease is largely preventable because many of its risk factors – high blood pressure, tobacco smoking and overweight and obesity – are modifiable. Other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, can also contribute to chronic kidney disease.
Early detection of kidney disease can be done by simple blood or urine tests, and treatment can prevent or slow its progression.
People with chronic kidney disease have a two to three-fold greater risk of cardiac death than people without the disease, which is a compelling reason to look after your kidney health. While death rates of many chronic diseases are stable and even declining, kidney disease is rapidly escalating, killing two Australians every hour.
People most at risk of kidney disease include those with diabetes, people with high blood pressure, those with a family history of kidney disease, obesity, being a smoker, being 60 years of age or over, and being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Management can make a big difference
It’s important to be alert for symptoms because if chronic kidney disease is detected early and managed appropriately, the decline in kidney function can be reduced and might even be reversible.
These symptoms can include high blood pressure, changes in the amount and number of times urine is passed, changes in the appearance of urine, blood in your urine, puffiness in your legs, ankles or around your eyes, tiredness and nausea.
Kidney Heath Australia (www.kidney.org.au) has some key recommendations on how to look after your kidneys which include:
- Have your blood pressure checked regularly and make sure it stays below the levels recommended by your doctor.
- If you have diabetes, make sure you monitor your blood glucose levels and stay within your targets.
- Lead an active, healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight.
- If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit!
- Eat wisely as it is important to maintain a healthy weight for your height.
- Exercise regularly.
- Reduce alcohol.
- Drink water.
Your local pharmacy can advise and counsel you on a range of lifestyle changes to keep your kidneys healthy, as well as advise you on medicines and answer questions about kidney disease.