Anne Black, CEO
National Kidney Foundation of Illinois
After nearly 14 years of being on staff at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, I still wake up every day excited and eager to go in to work. It’s easy to do when you work to educate, prevent and empower people affected by or at-risk for a life-altering or even deadly disease.Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as the ‘silent killer,’ affects more than 26 million American adults, over 1.1 million in Illinois alone, and most don’t know about it. By definition, CKD is the slow loss of kidney function over a period of months or even years. However, most people do not have any symptoms until their kidney disease is advanced.
Let me take a step back and explain the importance of kidneys. The kidneys are the body’s natural filtration system, which means they clean your body’s blood and remove waste and excess fluid in the form of urine. Every day kidneys pump more than 400 gallons of recycled blood. Kidneys also play a crucial role in regulating blood pressure, producing a hormone that promotes the formation of red blood cells, making vitamin D to help keep your blood, heart, bones and teeth healthy; regulating levels of electrolytes in the body, such as sodium and potassium; and modifying levels of chemicals in the body, such as calcium, magnesium and phosphate.
In the early stages of losing kidney function, symptoms may arise such as having less energy, trouble concentrating, a poor appetite, issues sleeping, dry and itchy skin, and an increased need to urinate especially at night. During more advanced stages of CKD, symptoms include a creatinine blood test result greater than 1.4 for men and greater than 1.2 for women, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) blood test outside the normal range, and an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) of less than 60.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for 44 percent of new cases.
Nearly 215,000 people are living with kidney failure resulting from diabetes. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, family history of kidney disease, being age 60 or older, or belonging to a minority group.
CKD is diagnosed by a series of blood tests examining kidney function. The results of these blood tests reveal which stage a person is in of the five stages of CKD. Once a person reaches the fifth and final stage, their kidneys no longer work and they find themselves with end-stage renal disease.
Treatment for end-stage renal disease involves undergoing dialysis or kidney transplantation. Dialysis is a treatment that replaces kidney function by removing excess waste and build-up in the body and can be done via hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis (HD) is a medical treatment where blood is removed from the body and filtered through a machine to remove waste, toxins and fluids. Peritoneal dialysis (PD) is a treatment where the inside lining of the belly acts as a filter to remove waste from the body. A fluid called dialysate is put into the belly through a permanent catheter. The fluid is left inside the body for a period of time, pulling waste through the belly lining. Through an exchange process, the fluid is removed through the catheter again and discarded.
Kidney transplantation is another option when someone’s kidneys have failed. A kidney can be donated from a deceased organ donor or a living donor, who may be a friend, family member or stranger. After transplantation, recipients feel the benefits right away and go on to live a better quality of life that allows more freedom and energy as well as less dietary restrictions.
Prior to reaching end-stage renal disease, there are several ways to maintain healthy kidneys, and most of these tips are easy to incorporate into an everyday routine. By drinking 8-10 glasses of water and exercising 30 minutes every day, people can reduce their risk of developing CKD. Additionally, people should maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure, limit their consumption of alcohol, avoid the overuse of unnecessary drug use and quit smoking.
While kidney disease can develop into a serious condition that affects a large portion of the American population, there are simple precautionary methods to prevent its onset. The National Kidney Foundation of Illinois has a mobile screening program, the KidneyMobile, which travels through the entire state providing free screenings for kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. The test results are received on site and screening participants have the opportunity to speak with our staff nurse or a physician. If an individual has an abnormal test result, they are encouraged to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician (PCP). If they do not have a PCP or are uninsured or undocumented, they are given a referral to a clinic where they can receive the care they need. The staff of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois then follows up with those individuals to ensure they are taking the proper steps to manage their health. In addition to the KidneyMobile, we offer educational programs to people with kidney disease, those on dialysis and people who have already received a transplant and their caregivers. Our office has a wealth of educational materials and a full time nurse who is available for telephone consultations.
We know that chronic kidney disease is preventable in many cases, which is why we are working every day to increase the awareness of it. If detected early enough, we can slow and sometimes stop the progression of the disease, saving lives along the way.
Who wouldn’t feel great about being a part of that process?