March is National Kidney Month and today is World Kidney Day. A day that may seem like just an “observance,” but in fact, it’s much more. This is an opportunity to bring education and awareness to chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is found worldwide and it’s a serious health concern that can lead to kidney failure and early death. The World Kidney Day Steering Committee has declared 2021 the year of “Living Well with Kidney Disease.” Through this theme, their goals are, “to both increase education and awareness about effective symptom management and patient empowerment, with the ultimate goal of encouraging life participation.” Perhaps you have healthy kidneys, but a friend or family member may not, a coworker or community member may not. As a community, we can support, empower and empathize with each other better when we all learn and share.
Although you might not commonly hear about CKD, according to www.worldkidneyday.org, “CKD affects approximately 195 million women worldwide and it is currently the eighth leading cause of death in women, with close to 600,000 deaths each year.” Chronic kidney disease is sometimes referred to as chronic renal failure, chronic renal disease, or chronic kidney failure. CKD often goes undetected and undiagnosed until the disease is so far advanced that many patients are down to 25% of normal kidney function before they are diagnosed. All this data makes it even more important to spread the word not just today on World Kidney Day, but every day. Part of this will help support the theme of living well and learning about CKD.
Need a kidney explanation refresher? According to www.webmd.com, “The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs on either side of your spine, below your ribs and behind your belly. Each kidney is four or five inches long, roughly the size of a large fist.” Our kidneys have the important job of filtering our blood. Through this filtration, they remove waste in the body and help to control our fluid balances. Every day all the blood in our body makes its way through the kidneys several times. All the waste the kidneys remove is then expelled through urination.
When the blood in our bodies isn’t making its way to the kidneys or the kidneys aren’t able to function properly, that is when someone might have CKD. A person with CKD can no longer filter the blood as needed and their kidneys aren’t able to regulate fluids and waste. In advanced CKD, dangerous amounts of fluids and waste can build up in the body.
Aside from kidney disease, the kidneys can also ache for a variety of issues like bladder and urinary tract infections, kidney and/or bladder stones, and even Hepatitis C. Many of these can be treated and often people with them don’t have CKD. While other symptoms that can be signs of a kidney problem include pain in or around the kidney area, blood in urine, a change in appearance or smell of urine, decreased or increased urine output and erectile dysfunction. Many more symptoms can be found too.
Once someone is having symptoms or even if they feel something just isn’t right, they should reach out to a healthcare provider asap. There are a variety of tests for kidney issues such as urine and blood tests, ultrasound and CT-scans. If a diagnosis for CKD has been made, treatment is important for slowing down the progression of kidney damage that may have already taken place. If it’s not, you may need other treatment to clear your temporary symptoms. Medications may help treat the cause of the kidney problem, but for some with advanced CKD they may require dialysis or even a kidney transplant.
CKD awareness was certainly made when the play and movie Steel Magnolias came out. This was based on the true story of the screen/playwriter Robert Harling’s sister, Shelby, played by Julia Roberts in the movie, who was a young mom with diabetes. In the movie, her mom, Sally Field, gave her one of her kidneys. Shelby’s kidney issues were a complication of her diabetes. For those with progressive CKD who are facing end-stage kidney failure, their main treatment would be dialysis and/or a kidney transplant, much like this character Shelby went through. While the movie includes many famous lines, and plenty of laughs, it also showcases what is all too true for so many, a life that ends too soon due to CKD.
According to www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/global-facts-about-kidney-disease, “10% of the population worldwide is affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD), and millions die each year because they do not have access to affordable treatment. Over two million people worldwide currently receive treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive, yet this number may only represent 10% of people who need treatment to live. In the US, treatment of chronic kidney disease is likely to exceed $48 billion per year. Treatment for kidney failure consumes 6.7% of the total Medicare budget to care for less than 1% of the covered population. In people aged 65 through 74 worldwide, it is estimated that one in five men, and one in four women, have CKD.”
Chronic kidney disease is expensive, it is tiring, and its treatment can also be very wearing on the body and the mind, not to mention that it also claims many lives. On top of that many people who rely on dialysis to stay alive, now face their treatments alone due to the restrictions of Covid-19 and they also are at an increased risk of death. Today is World Kidney Day, and their slogan is “Living Well with Kidney Disease.” This is good news, because it means there is new research, treatments and opportunities for those with Kidney Disease to live fuller lives of wellness. But, to live well with Kidney disease, you have to take the first steps toward a proper diagnosis and treatment. Do not turn a blind eye to any chronic symptoms.
If you aren’t feeling well, if you have noticed changes in your physical or even emotional and mental health, reach out. No longer do we need to pretend all is well when we can seek treatment. Many people are faced with a life-changing diagnosis, such as Chronic Kidney Disease, Kidney Cancer and so many others. Thanks to science, studies and advocates, there are many ways to help each other through support, treatment and education. The World Kidney Day Organization says, “We must move beyond the status quo and advance patient-centeredness in research, practice and policy. Patient empowerment, partnership and improved communications, combined with a paradigm shift towards a strengths-based approach to care, can inspire confidence and hope in patients that they can live well with CKD.”
Director of The Wellness Center