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Here’s how you can save your kidneys from diabetes

Published on:11 March 2021, 14:34pm IST
Kidney damage is one of the bigger side-effects of diabetes, that’s why it is important to keep a check on your kidney health and protect it from damage.
Dr Apoorva Hajirnis
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Diabetics need to be extra cautious about the health of their kidneys. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

One may have heard of how diabetes can affect many bodily functions from head to toe, but did you know that kidneys get affected significantly and lead to various serious health problems? Protect your kidneys before it’s too late!

Whenever someone has or is newly found to have diabetes, the first thing that comes to mind is to reduce the intake of sugar or carbs, and exercising regularly to keep the blood glucose levels under control.

However, it’s also important to know that diabetes is much more than just “high blood sugar”.

Diabetes affects many organs of the body and overall health. However, it most importantly affects kidneys. Let’s understand how!

One can say kidneys are two small waste management systems in the body. They carry out the important task of filtering out waste and removing it from the blood. Having diabetes can negatively impact the kidneys and cause them to stop working or impair their effective functioning. It is one of the key causes of kidney disease and, if eventually unmanaged, can lead to kidney failure.

Diabetes-related kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) is the most common cause of kidney failure today.

How does diabetes damage the kidneys?

In diabetes, one has high blood sugar. When the blood has extra “sugar”, it makes the kidneys work extra hard to filter the blood. So, it’s the high blood glucose levels (and not anti-diabetic medicines) that damage kidneys. Over time, this “extra load” can damage the kidneys. As a result, minute amounts of protein leak into the urine. The damage worsens with more and more protein leaking into the urine; eventually, kidneys won’t work and might fail. 

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How can you detect kidney damage?

The kidneys work silently. There are very few symptoms that show up, until they have almost stopped working. Let’s take a look at these symptoms.

  • Accumulation of fluids in the body: This might be apparent if one has swollen ankles, weight gain, or an urge to urinate often.
  • Loss of sleep and appetite: One might also have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, with loss of appetite or an upset stomach. 
  • Fatigue: One might feel weak and tired.
  • Nausea and vomiting: One might feel sick
  • Persistent itching: This might happen at a later stage during kidney failure
  • Shortness of breath 

These are not very unusual symptoms, and that’s why it’s important to see a doctor regularly to keep track of your kidney function, if you have diabetes.

Different ways to save your kidneys

Like in every disease, the saying “a pint of prevention is more valuable than a pound of cure” is true for kidney disease, when one has diabetes. Here are some ways that can help prevent kidney damage:

1. Stay within the “sugar” goals

To diagnose type 2 diabetes, the doctor gets an HbA1c test done that measures the sugar or glucose levels in the blood over three months. Usually, a doctor recommends the HbA1c goal to be under 7 percent.
Once the goal is known, the best thing one can do to prevent kidney failure is to stay within that range (“goal”).

This can be done by checking sugar levels regularly and maintaining it by taking proper medication, and following a proper diet and exercise schedule.

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2. Take steps to control your blood pressure

High blood pressure indicates “heart overload” and can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. Like the blood glucose goal, the doctor sets up a blood pressure goal for diabetic patients, which must be maintained by taking regular medicines and following a proper lifestyle.

3. Stick to a diabetes diet plan

Controlling your diet is vital to avoid high blood sugar-induced kidney damage. One should ensure that diet does not contain high sugar and calories, as well as high amounts of salt. Include lots of whole fruits, whole grains, vegetables, lean meats and fish in your diet to get the required nutrients, while managing a high-calorie intake.
Moreover, it is very well-established that maintaining a healthy weight can also help in maintaining blood sugar and healthy kidneys.

4. Stop smoking

Smoking causes many health problems in diabetic patients, in which kidney failure is the most common. It makes your blood glucose levels tougher to control and can shoot up the BP, causing reduced kidney function by slowing down the blood flow to the organs.

kidney damage
Smoking is also bad for your kidneys. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
5. Make exercising a habit

Exercises like running, brisk walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, and dancing are good options. A minimum of 30 minutes of everyday exercise can help a lot.

6. Take your medicines regularly

Even if your blood sugar levels reach a healthy range, taking medicines regularly is important as they will help maintain the sugar levels “within the goal”.

Dr Apoorva Hajirnis Dr Apoorva Hajirnis

Dr Apoorva Hajirnis is MBBS, MD, DM at Harmony Clinic, Mumbai.