Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has been estimated to affect as much as 15 per cent of the South African population. According to the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa, it also represents a growing healthcare problem with some 20 000 new patients requiring diagnosis and treatment every year in South Africa.
Noeleen Phillipson, Chief Executive Officer of National Renal Care (NRC) South Africa’s largest private renal replacement therapy provider, points out that CKD is a dangerous medical condition, but says that it can be successfully managed if detected timeously.
‘Kidneys are among our most vital organs as they filter toxins and produce essential chemicals in our bodies,’ she observes. ‘When the kidneys stop functioning properly our body becomes toxic and we cannot survive. The difficulty lies in the fact that CKD is an insidious disease – it often goes undetected as many people whose kidneys are dysfunctional do not develop symptoms until their kidneys are close to failing.’
Jacques du Plessis, Managing Director of Netcare’s Hospital Division says this is why it is vital to have your risks of developing the illness assessed regularly by a healthcare practitioner. ‘This is particularly important for those people who have diabetes or high blood pressure, which are the most common causes of CKD. World Kidney Day is an important opportunity to raise awareness about this serious medical condition.’
Phillipson points out that when the kidneys become chronically diseased kidney failure is imminent. Once kidney failure occurs there is no cure for the condition. There is however treatment in the form of dialysis – an artificial replacement of the kidney’s filtering process via a machine. At present more than 6 000 patients in South Africa are receiving life-saving dialysis.
While many people do not develop any symptoms indicating CKD there may be certain indicators, according to Phillipson. Kidney disease sufferers may present with any of the following symptoms on a regular basis:
• Poor concentration
• Metallic taste in the mouth
• Difficulty sleeping
• Appetite loss and particularly a loss of appetite for eating meat
Phillipson advises South Africans to visit their doctor at least once a year to have the recommended kidney health screening tests done. This particularly holds true for individuals with a family history of hypertension, cardiac problems or diabetes.
Phillipson says preventing the development of kidney disease is better than having to seek treatment for it. The correct lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of kidney disease. Regular exercise, a diet rich in vegetables and fruit and low in salt, potassium and protein can help you keep your kidneys healthy. Giving up smoking and reducing alcohol consumption to one drink a day is also recommended. Medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension should be strictly managed in consultation with your doctor.
High blood pressure can damage the nephrons, the smallest functional filtering units of the kidneys, thereby impairing kidney functioning. Kidney disease is a known complication of diabetes. The basic function of the kidneys is to filter waste products from the blood. Diabetes can damage this system. If blood glucose levels are too high, the kidneys must work harder to maintain the necessary filtering processes. High levels of blood sugar make the kidneys filter too much blood. All this extra work is hard on the filters. After many years, they start to leak and useful protein is lost in the urine.