March 1, 2010

Silent But Deadly

Recognize the signs and help prevent kidney disease

There's a reason kidney disease is often called the silent killer: it can sneak up on a person without warning. Kidney disease can affect anyone at any time. That means that once a person feels bad enough to show symptoms of kidney disease, there has already been irreversible damage to kidneys. Renal replacement therapy - ranging from dialysis to kidney transplant - may be required to keep a person alive.

Early detection is key, so during the month of March - Kidney Health Awareness Month, with World Kidney Day on March 11th -an array of bus and billboard advertising, television commercials and radio spots will encourage you visit The website provides you with information about the risks and symptoms about kidney disease.

Your Kidneys

Kidneys are critical to your health and well-being. You have two kidneys, located just below the ribs. Sometimes people are born without a kidney or lose a kidney during their life. They can still maintain normal kidney function with just the one kidney.

The top four things your kidneys do

  1. Filter out waste products. This includes urea, creatinine and uric acid.

  2. Help to balance minerals. Your kidneys regulate electrolyte balances, your bones, water balance and keep an acid/base balance in your body.

  3. Secrete hormones. Including the hormone that helps to regulate your blood pressure.

  4. Help control blood pressure. Your kidneys help regulate how your blood moves through your body by controlling the amount of water you excrete.

If your kidneys are damaged, you may require medical management, such as prescription medication, monitoring and follow-up and renal replacement therapy. You may also need to make changes to your diet and lifestyle to prolong the kidney function you still have.

The steps to good kidney health incorporate the general elements of good health: take care of your body and your health, sleep properly, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

Risk factors

If you have one or more of the health concerns on this list, you could be at risk for kidney disease:

  • diabetes

  • high blood pressure

  • heart disease

  • known kidney disorders or disease

  • urinary tract disorders

  • auto immune disease (for example: lupus)

  • family history of kidney disease


People with kidney disease often show no symptoms until kidney damage has occured. Here are things to watch for:

  • foaming, tea coloured, bloody or cloudy urine

  • obvious changes in urinary frequency

  • swelling around the eyes, hands or feet

  • shortness of breath

  • feeling tired or having less energy

If you are at risk for kidney disease or have experienced any of the symptoms, call your doctor today. Early detection and treatment can stop kidney disease from getting worse and even prevent the need for treatments such as dialysis.

Diet plays an important role in kidney health but no diet is appropriate for every person. Reading the internet and following suggestions for renal diets aren't enough. A person with kidney disease needs to speak with a renal dietitian. Monitoring sodium, potassium and protein intake is necessary for kidney patients but the body still needs sodium, potassium and protein. A renal dietitian can help you make educated choices based on your blood work.

"There's a little bit of sodium naturally found in foods, so eliminating sodium/salt isn't possible," says Noreen Gnitzinger, Renal Dietitian with the Region's Manitoba Renal Program. "Bloodwork is super important - you still need nutrients like salt, but in a smaller amount if you have kidney disease."

For the average person, a proactive, kidney healthy diet is one that follows Canada's Food Guide.

Nutrition Tips for Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy

  1. If you're introducing healthier eating, do one thing at a time. Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming and set you up to fail.

  2. Read labels. A healthy sodium intake is less than 10 per cent in the serving, which is what all dietitians would recommend.

  3. Watch processed and packaged foods. Packaged foods are often high in sodium, which can elevate blood pressure and make your kidneys work harder.

  4. Choose air popped popcorn over microwave popcorn. That way you can control the toppings, coatings and sodium you add.

  5. Healthier snack alternatives include:

    • Rice cakes

    • Fruit bars

    • Toast and peanut butter

    • Cereal and milk

    • Raw fruits

    • raw vegetables

  6. Watch high sugar foods, alcohol and foods that are high in fat. They provide extra calories but little, if any, nutrition. In fact, these foods can cause weight gain.

  7. Don't live without your favourites . . . make them "sometimes" foods. You don't have to live without the food you love, just enjoy it in moderate or low amounts.

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