Chronic kidney disease has no symptoms in early stages; regular screenings essential

Undergoing simple kidney function tests are important in protecting kidney health, says an expert from a leading global healthcare system, Cleveland Clinic, ahead of World Kidney Day on March 10.

Simple, non-invasive kidney tests, using urine and blood samples, are often included in annual health check-ups. However, in the case of people who are at a higher risk — including patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, as well as those with a family history of chronic kidney disease — it is particularly important to have these screening tests, says Crystal Gadegbeku, MD, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Kidney Medicine.

“With chronic kidney disease, you don’t experience symptoms until it is too late, so these screening tests are all we have for early detection of disease or assurance that the kidneys are functioning normally,” Dr. Gadegbeku explains. “In the case of long-standing chronic kidney disease, the damage is often irreversible, but if kidney damage is caught early, we can take steps to reverse, prevent or delay any further damage.

Worldwide, around one in 10 people have some form of chronic kidney disease, according to the International Society of Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations, which jointly organize World Kidney Day. They point out the disease can affect anyone, although the risk increases with age and it is more common in women than men. In addition, some ethnic groups have a higher risk for developing chronic kidney disease including black people, Hispanics, and people of South Asian origin.

In addition to screening, Dr. Gadegbeku advises individuals to take steps to prevent or effectively manage chronic conditions that cause kidney damage, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.

“Our kidneys are life-sustaining organs that are important for maintaining blood pressure, bone health, red blood cells, pH balance and the appropriate amount of minerals in the bloodstream. Also our kidneys are important for removing toxins from the body and managing medications, so I like to consider the broader focus of maintaining kidney health for everyone, and not just managing kidney diseases,” says Dr. Gadegbeku.

She adds, “Generally, the advice given for maintaining heart health also applies to kidney health because the kidneys filter the blood through a network of blood vessels. This advice includes exercising regularly, following a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and vaping, and limiting alcohol intake. For specific kidney diseases, special diets may be recommended by a nephrologist.”

When it comes to treatments for kidney disease, disease-specific therapies may be recommended by a nephrologist, but some general guidelines are to keep blood pressure and urine protein under control to slow or halt progression of the disease, Dr. Gadegbeku says.

“We are hopeful that a new age of precision medicine, or personalized medicine, will be in our future, where we can customize therapy for each person targeting the molecular mechanisms causing the disease. Here, in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Kidney Medicine, we are actively involved in the Kidney Precision Medicine Project (KPMP), a collaborative research study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that is investigating ways to apply precision medicine therapies for kidney diseases. I am so excited that we are working with others to pave the way for new ways to prevent and treat kidney diseases to improve the lives of patients,” Dr. Gadegbeku concludes.