Kidney disease

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Kidney disease and high blood pressure

Kidney disease and high blood pressure

Kidney disease is a term that describes any problems you may have when your kidneys are not working as well as they should. Your kidneys help to filter your blood to remove unwanted waste products. Depending on how severe it is, the effects of kidney disease can be minor. But if you do not take steps to control it, it can cause serious health problems.

How healthy your kidneys are can affect your blood pressure, and vice versa. This means that if you have high blood pressure, then you are more likely to have kidney disease. Likewise, if you have kidney disease, this can sometimes cause high blood pressure.

The biggest health risk for people with kidney disease is not actually kidney failure. People with kidney disease are much more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. So if you have kidney disease you need to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. Controlling your blood pressure is a very important way to do this.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease?

In the early or mild stages, kidney disease may have no signs or symptoms. This means that it can sometimes be difficult to detect. In some cases you may notice changes in your body, such as:

  • Changes to your urine (colour and smell, or how much or how often you go)
  • Swelling of your legs, hands or face
  • Tiredness, or feeling unwell
  • Anaemia
  • Persistent thirst
  • Itchy skin.

How is kidney disease diagnosed?

If you have high blood pressure, you will probably have tests on your kidneys. This is because high blood pressure can raise your risk of kidney disease. In the first instance, your doctor my try one or both of the following:

  • a urine test, to check for protein or blood (which can be signs of kidney disease)
  • a blood test to measure how much fluid your kidneys can filter in a minute (this is called your GFR  or glomerular filtration rate). A low GFR means that your kidneys are not working properly.

If these tests show that you have some degree of kidney disease, your doctor may suggest an ultrasound scan of your kidneys. This can help to show where the damage is and how severe it is.

Can kidney disease be treated?

In the very early stages, kidney disease may need little or no treatment. However, kidney disease also raises your risk of heart disease and stroke, and your doctor will want to ensure that this risk is as low as it can be.

Controlling your blood pressure is an important way to reduce kidney disease, and to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your doctor will want to ensure that your blood pressure is lower than 140/90 mmHg, and in some cases as low as 130/80 mmHg.

ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers are usually the first choice of blood pressure medicine for someone with kidney disease. This is because they help protect the kidneys against further damage. If these medicines do not lower your blood pressure enough then other blood pressure medicines can be used.

If you have diabetes as well as high blood pressure, it is extremely important to keep this controlled. Diabetes can cause serious damage to your kidneys if it is not treated properly.

What can I do for myself?

Your doctor will be able to advise you about making lifestyle changes to help reduce the effects of kidney disease. They may suggest any of the following:

  • eating a healthier diet, and reducing the amount of salt you eat
  • increasing the amount of regular exercise you get
  • stopping smoking
  • losing weight if you need to
  • cutting back on alcohol.

As well as helping your kidneys, these lifestyle changes will help lower your blood pressure and keep your blood sugar controlled. This will also help to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

If your kidney disease is more severe your doctor may suggest a special diet to reduce the amount of waste products your body produces. This will give your kidneys less work to do.

If you have kidney disease, it is very important that you do not use salt substitutes such as Lo-Salt. These products contain a lot of potassium and, if your kidneys are not working properly, potassium can build up, which can lead to health problems.

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