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Home » Your Health » Kidney Health Month – It’s time to think about our kidneys

Kidney Health Month – It’s time to think about our kidneys

By Dr. Mauro Verrelli
Published Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Manitoba has one of the highest rates of kidney failure in Canada. In the last decade, while the number of Canadians with kidney failure grew by 31 per cent, it grew almost 35 per cent in Manitoba. We know more can be done to prevent or delay progression of kidney disease. Studies have found approximately 10 per cent of the general population will have chronic kidney disease in varying stages. This month is Kidney Health Month in Canada and a good time to reflect on the care and health of our kidneys.

Kidneys are vital organs that filter blood from which they remove toxic waste and excess water. We are born with one million microscopic filters in each of our two kidneys and these individually contribute to overall kidney function. Chronic kidney disease commonly occurs when some filters stop working because they are being injured by an underlying medical condition. This causes a persistent, and possibly progressive, reduction in kidney function.

Chronic kidney disease has five stages. Life-sustaining dialysis or transplantation is commonly required in stage 5, when over 90 per cent of the kidney filters are no longer functioning. You may have kidney disease and not even know it. Earlier stage chronic kidney disease (1 - 4) is often silent and without symptoms.

Chronic kidney disease, particularly in its earlier stages, has historically been under-recognized. This is believed to be a major contributor to the incremental growth of patients with kidney failure. If kidney disease is detected early, it often can be treated with medications, and other interventions, that can halt or delay its progression. Approximately 25 per cent of Manitobans who start dialysis unexpectedly present with kidney failure and have to start dialysis without forewarning, which is unfortunately commonly a challenging transition for so many.

Technology advancements have progressed so patients can maintain an excellent quality of life by performing dialysis in the comfort of their own home. This is the next best option for those who cannot receive or are waiting for a transplant, and are able to do so. In comparison to in-center dialysis, for many patients, home dialysis permits more independence by being able to schedule their life-saving treatment when it best suits them.

For those with kidney failure who are healthy enough, the ideal treatment is a kidney transplant as it markedly improves quality of life and increases longevity. Thirty-nine per cent of Manitobans with kidney failure are over 65, so transplantation is less likely for older individuals. The number of Manitobans waiting for a kidney transplant far exceeds available organs. For information regarding kidney donation in Manitoba, you can visit transplantmanitoba.ca.

Increasing rates of chronic kidney disease have been recognized as a global health problem. The leading causes are increasing rates of diabetes, an aging population with heart and circulation problems, obesity and high blood pressure - all chronic conditions. Diabetes is the primary cause in 29 per cent of Canadians, and 41 per cent of Manitobans, with kidney failure.

If you have risk factors for kidney disease, regular follow up and screening, which commonly means getting a simple blood and urine test by your primary care provider, is important. 

Some risk factors for chronic kidney disease include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Known kidney problems
  • Urinary tract problems
  • Very frequent use of known toxins (such as painkillers)
  • Heart disease
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Vascular disease (poor circulation)
  • Autoimmune disease (such as Lupus)

Symptoms of kidney disease may vary, and may include:

  • Foaming, bloody (resembling cola or tea), or cloudy urine
  • Swelling
  • Having to urinate during the night
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent, ongoing itching
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Decreased urine output (less than 2 cups per day)
  • Shortness of breath

There are many things you can do to care for your kidneys such as managing your diabetes, limiting alcohol, stopping smoking, taking your medications as prescribed, maintaining a normal blood pressure, knowing if you have family history of kidney disease and aiming for a healthy body weight while being physically active and eating healthy, balanced meals. Even a simple walk and eliminating processed foods for home-cooked options can make a major difference in your kidney health. Many of our chronic kidney disease patients regularly exercise, and some dialysis patients also use a stationary bike attachment while receiving dialysis treatment!

As we take this time during Kidney Health Month to think about our kidneys, I encourage you to visit  kidneyhealth.ca and knowyourkidneys.ca to learn more. Manitobans can also to talk to their primary health-care provider about their kidney health. It's time to get to know your kidneys.

Dr. Mauro Verrelli is the Provincial Medical Specialty Lead for Renal Health at Shared Health.

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