Kidneys & urinary problems

Ward off kidney disease

Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the leading causes of kidney disease. If you have diabetes, you can reduce your risk of kidney damage by managing your blood sugar levels. If you have high blood pressure, you can help protect your kidneys by getting your blood pressure to a healthy level. There is much you can do to help manage these two conditions or, in some cases, to prevent them. By doing so, you'll benefit your overall health - not just your kidney function.

Diabetes and your kidneys

About 1 out of every 3 people who have had diabetes for at least 15 years will develop kidney disease. Unfortunately, early kidney damage has few symptoms, so it's important for people with diabetes to have regular tests to check their kidney function. It's also important to be aware of the risk of kidney damage so that you can do as much as possible to minimize it.

While you may not be able to completely protect your kidneys from the effects of diabetes, the following steps will help your kidneys stay as healthy as possible:

  • Keep your blood sugar levels at your target with the help of your doctor, diabetes educator, or pharmacist.
  • Ask your doctor about regular urine and blood tests to monitor your kidney function.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly - your doctor can advise you on your target blood pressure and how often to check.
  • Eat a healthy diet - your doctor or dietitian can advise you on the best foods for you to choose or avoid.
  • Try to quit smoking.
  • Exercise regularly.

Your doctor may also recommend that you take a medication called an ACE inhibitor (e.g., ramipril, enalapril) or an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB; e.g., valsartan, losartan) to help protect your kidneys.

High blood pressure and your kidneys

The complications of high blood pressure are serious. You may be aware that high blood pressure can lead to a stroke or heart attack, but did you know that it could also cause kidney damage? If you already have kidney disease, maintaining a healthy control of your blood pressure can help protect your kidneys.

What can you do to help control your blood pressure?

  • Consult your doctor about your "target" blood pressure.
  • Monitor your blood pressure regularly as recommended by your doctor. Many pharmacies sell blood pressure monitors that you can easily use at home. If you discover your blood pressure is higher than it should be, speak to your doctor. You may need to adopt some lifestyle changes (see below) or take a medication (or combination of medications) to help lower your blood pressure.
  • Follow a low-fat, low-salt diet (such as the DASH diet).
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Keep a healthy body weight.
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol that you drink.
  • Try to quit smoking.

Ward off kidney stones

Passing a kidney stone can be an extremely painful experience. And aside from the pain, kidney stones also pose a risk of kidney damage and urinary tract infection.

One in 10 Canadians will experience a kidney stone during their lifetime. Kidney stones are usually made of a substance called calcium oxalate, but the stones may also be made of uric acid or cystine. Once you have developed a stone, your options are:

  • to pass the stone when you urinate
  • to have it surgically removed
  • to have it dissolved with medication
  • to have it broken up through a special procedure using high-energy shock waves (extra-corporeal shock wave lithotripsy, or ESWL)

Your best course of treatment will depend on factors such as the type and size of the stone.

What can you do to avoid a kidney stone?

  • Drink plenty of water! Aim for at least 2 L (about 8 glasses) of water daily. If you are exercising, you'll need to drink extra, as your body will lose some fluid through perspiration and therefore this fluid will not pass through your kidneys.
  • Consume a diet that has normal dietary amounts of calcium and is low in salt and animal protein.
  • If you've had kidney stones in the past, you may need to avoid or restrict certain foods in your diet (e.g., foods that are high in oxalate such as organ meats, tea, or chocolate). Your doctor can advise you on this.
  • If you still develop kidney stones despite dietary and lifestyle changes, you may need to start taking medications as recommended by your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether one of your medications may be increasing your risk of kidney stones.
Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team