More than 600,000 Americans are currently dealing with kidney failure. And if that’s not enough of a sobering stat, consider this: Kidney disease is the 9th leading cause of death in the U.S.
Want to avoid this particular club? Be kind to your kidneys.
The diseases that lead to kidney failure have a variety of causes. Some are hereditary while others stem from dietary or lifestyle choices. You can’t change your genetics, but you can take proactive steps to ward off kidney problems even if you’re at a higher risk.
Avoiding serious kidney failure isn’t the only reason to take care of these organs. Healthy kidneys help reduce your risk of developing inconvenient (and extremely painful) conditions like kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
Fortunately, many of the same prevention tips for minor kidney problems apply to major issues as well. In a nutshell? Take care of your body.
In honor of World Kidney Day, here’s how to keep your kidneys healthy and happy.
Prevention Tips: A Disease-by-Disease Breakdown
Chemicals in your urine can consolidate into crystals. As these stones leave your kidneys and travel through your urinary system, they cause terrible pain.
Kidney stones are common, but they’re not inevitable. Proper hydration thwarts the development of kidney stones. Opt for plenty of plain water to keep things running. If you need a break from water, try low-sugar citrus juices. They contain citrate, which limits stone formation. Keep your salt intake low, too.
Oxalate, found in chocolate, tea, sweet potatoes, peanuts and other foods, may contribute to stone development, but you shouldn’t cut this chemical out of your diet entirely. Instead, you can lower your risk by pairing oxalate-rich foods with ones that are high in calcium.
If you’ve had kidney stones before, your doctor might recommend additional dietary changes, like limiting meat and taking a calcium supplement.
Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) can happen anywhere in the urinary system, including the kidneys. When a UTI affects the kidneys, it may be called a kidney infection. Signs of a kidney infection include:
- Back pain
- A burning sensation when urinating
- A persistent feeling that you need to use the bathroom
Women are more likely than men to get a UTI. But no matter your gender, you can reduce your risk by drinking plenty of water each day and not waiting too long to use the restroom. Women should also wipe from front to back and stay away from scented feminine products.
Polycystic Kidney Disease
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) happens when fluid-filled sacs develop inside the kidneys. These sacs can spread to other parts of your body or cause additional kidney complications, such as stones and infections. Symptoms include back pain and headaches.
PKD is hereditary, so there’s no good way to prevent it. But you can take steps to slow down the progression if you get diagnosed with PKD. These include:
- Keeping your blood pressure and blood sugar in check
- Reducing your salt intake
- Getting 30 minutes of exercise each day
Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an ongoing kidney disease in which function decreases because of organ damage that continues to worsen over time. In other words, your kidneys stop functioning as they should thanks to chronic disease. Symptoms of CKD include:
- Muscle cramps
- Low appetite
- Increased urination
- Puffy ankles
Eventually, CKD can turn into kidney failure. And CKD is more common than you think, affecting about 15% of American adults. Even worse, nearly half of people with kidney disease who aren’t on dialysis don’t even know they have it.
Despite these grim statistics, you can reduce your risk of CKD by leading a healthier life. Start by exercising regularly and getting your weight within a healthy range. If you have high blood pressure, consider medication to lower it. Stay away from cigarettes, and keep an eye on your blood sugar.
And if you have risk factors for CKD, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your kidney health. You may need to get regular CKD screenings.
Renal cell carcinoma and other kidney cancers start in the kidney but may spread to other parts of the body. Early on, kidney cancer is often asymptomatic. That means you won’t likely notice any symptoms. Eventually, you may develop symptoms like weight loss, back or side pain, and blood in your urine.
There’s no surefire way to prevent kidney cancer, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk and improve your overall health. These include:
- Keeping your weight in check
- Getting treatment for high blood pressure
- Not smoking.
If other family members have had kidney cancer, let your doctor know. You’ll want to keep closer tabs on your kidney health because genetics often play a role in cancer diagnoses.
Kidney Advice for Every Life Stage
Kidney health starts young. And while it might not seem possible to explain kidney health to small children, there are simple ways to instill good habits early.
- Encourage your kids to eat a balanced diet. To get them to eat more fruits and vegetables, give them the opportunity to be in charge of picking out produce at the grocery store. Letting them help you prepare food might also get them interested in eating better, too.
- Promote hydration by providing fun cups or straws. And consider using water bottles with lids so they can carry drinks wherever they go. If your kids resist plain water, flavor their drinks with a splash of lemon or lime juice.
- Teach girls to wipe the correct way when using the bathroom (front to back). And teach all kids to use the restroom when they need to. Holding, a common problem for young kids, can encourage UTIs.
Smoking is a major risk factor for developing kidney troubles, so avoid smoking altogether. But if you’re already a smoker, work on quitting.
Maintain a balanced diet that includes many fruits and vegetables. Pair high-oxalate foods with foods that contain calcium. Drink at least 8 cups of water a day, and consider a daily glass of low-sugar citrus juice. Limit your salt and sugar intake as well.
If you’re overweight, discuss weight loss options with your doctor. No matter what the scale says, maintain an active lifestyle, and aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Diabetes is common among seniors. If you’re diabetic, it’s essential for your kidneys that you maintain a healthy blood sugar level. You can do this by checking your sugar regularly and keeping up with the diabetes medications prescribed by your doctor.
Taking too many NSAID pain relievers, like ibuprofen, can negatively affect your kidneys. If you deal with chronic pain, work with your doctor to create a pain-management plan that can reduce your reliance on over-the-counter drugs.
And be sure to let your family members know if you have kidney disease. Some conditions have a hereditary component. Alerting your kids and grandkids to your kidney problems may encourage them to get tested.
No matter your age, if you’re experiencing troubling kidney symptoms, get them checked out right away. With most kidney diseases, it’s easiest to treat them — or at least slow their symptoms — early on in the progression. Talking to your doctor about any problems that come up is the best way to keep your kidneys healthy at every stage of life.