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Do you have kidney disease?

This silent disease often goes undetected until it's too late

Consuela Brass estimates she had been living with kidney disease for at least a year before it was discovered.
Consuela Brass estimates she had been living with kidney disease for at least a year before it was discovered.
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BY AMIE LESYK
Winnipeg Health Region
Published Thursday, March 1, 2012

Consuela Brass was an active woman. She went to the gym, played with her nieces and nephews and often worked more than full-time.

"I felt fine - just fatigued," says the 44-year-old. At first she attributed feeling tired to her hectic work schedule but began to suspect there was more going on. She visited her family doctor for routine tests, hoping for answers but not expecting the one she got. The next day her doctor called saying the test indicated significant loss of kidney function. Brass was shocked.

Brass, like many Manitobans, hadn't given kidney disease much thought. The problem with this is kidney disease can be sneaky and silent, often wreaking havoc without you even knowing it. By the time the disease is recognized a lot of damage may have been done and it's irreversible.

"It's so important to catch kidney disease before it has progressed. People need to know if they are at risk and talk to their doctor about it," says Dr. Mauro Verrelli, Medical Director of Manitoba Renal Program (MRP), Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Manitoba has the highest rates of kidney disease in the country.

 "We're working to raise awareness and to ensure people are taking a more proactive stance when it comes to kidney disease," says Dr. Verrelli. "We want more people to avoid significant loss of kidney function and the need for dialysis."

Kidney disease can be caused in a variety of ways but knowing the most common risk factors can help you determine if you or a loved one should be concerned. People with diabetes, family history of kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease or history of stroke are at higher risk of developing kidney disease. Because there are often no noticeable symptoms with kidney disease, it's best to have your health-care provider measure your kidney function with simple tests.

Brass estimates she had been living with the disease for at least a year before the discovery. The good news is that with help from an interdisciplinary Manitoba Renal Program health-care team, Brass was able to manage her kidney disease for five years, without needing to go on dialysis.

"Diet, exercise and medication," she says, listing the three ways she managed her disease. Brass stuck to the instructions her health-care team gave her, eating properly (people with kidney disease have specific food restrictions), exercising and taking her medications. "They told me I had taken such good care of myself, I would stay stable."

She only recently had to start on peritoneal dialysis, a gentler form of dialysis that helps clean toxins from the blood stream and can be done at home. She also hopes for a spring transplant operation, where she will receive a kidney from her sister.

When the disease is not managed properly, dialysis can be needed sooner or might be started in an emergency situation. Also people can tend to feel sicker and more fatigued than they might with proper management.

Jennifer Laferriere says there is a lack of knowledge of kidney disease amongst the public.

Jennifer Laferriere says there is a lack of knowledge of kidney disease amongst the public.

Jennifer Laferriere, a 41-year-old mother of two, admits she didn't always follow her care plan after her diagnosis. She was only 15 when it was discovered she had a rare form of kidney disease. She had felt fine and it was a routine test with her family doctor that led to the diagnosis. Because of the lack of symptoms, she would often put the disease in the back of her mind. "You didn't feel sick, so you didn't want to believe it."

This led to her landing in the hospital on a couple occasions with low potassium levels or as a result of not taking medication.

After the birth of her second daughter the doctors told her she would need to start dialysis immediately. "I thought it was worth the gamble because I probably would have ended up on dialysis anyways."

After starting on hemodialysis in hospital, she also moved to peritoneal dialysis that she could do at home. It became part of her daily routine and allowed her freedom to go about her day. Laferriere says there is a lack of knowledge of kidney disease amongst the public. "When I tell people I'm on dialysis, a lot of times they don't even know what that is."

Both Brass and Laferriere have talked to their kids and families about kidney disease, urging everyone to be aware of the risks and to get tested.  

Learn more about kidney disease and what you need to know by visiting kidneyhealth.ca

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