Diabetic kidney disease is a potential complication of diabetes. Over long periods, insufficiently controlled blood sugar can lead to kidney damage. While it is impossible to reverse kidney damage, people can prevent or delay kidney disease.
How does diabetes affect the kidneys?
Diabetes is a condition that impedes the body’s ability to produce or correctly use the hormone insulin, impacting blood glucose regulation. This can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, which can cause health complications, such as kidney damage.
Diabetes can harm the kidneys by:
- Damaging blood vessels: The kidneys contain a network of small blood vessels called glomeruli. These blood vessels filter waste products while keeping useful substances, such as proteins and red blood cells, in the blood. Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause microvascular damage due to the extra stress on this filtration system.
- Increasing blood pressure: Damage to blood vessels and kidneys due to diabetes can also cause hypertension. This increase in blood pressure can putTrusted Source further strain on blood vessels around the kidneys, causing them to narrow, weaken, or harden.
- Damaging nerves: Hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose levels, can cause nerve damage, or diabetic neuropathy. A type of this condition that health experts call autonomic neuropathy can affect functions such as urination. This can lead to a person not knowing when their bladder is full. This pressure can also cause further damage to the kidneys.
The kidneys are organs that play a role in maintaining homeostasis. The structures of the kidneys allow them to filter fluids and keep people healthy. However, uncontrolled blood sugar can put extra stress on the kidneys and damage these structures, and this damage can then result in kidney disease and other health problems.
Symptoms and complications of kidney damage
Many people may not notice any visible symptoms in the early stages of diabetic nephropathy. However, blood and urine tests may help identify early stages of kidney damage. These tests can detect the presence of compounds that may indicate insufficient kidney function. As kidney disease progresses, a person may begin to notice nonspecific symptoms. These typically occur as the kidneys struggle to remove fluid and waste from the body.
Symptoms may include:
- swollen ankles, feet, lower legs, or hands due to water retention
- darker urine due to blood in the urine
- shortness of breath
- fatigue due to lack of oxygen in the blood
- a general feeling of being unwell
If diabetic nephropathy progresses, a person may experience kidney failure and cardiovascular disease.
Who is at risk?
In addition to long periods of high blood sugar and blood pressure, other factors can increase the risk of diabetic nephropathy. Risk factors may include:
- not following a diabetes care plan
- not engaging in physical activity
- following a diet high in salt
- having obesity
- having heart disease
- having a family history of kidney failure
Can one reverse or prevent kidney damage?
It is not possible to reverse kidney damage. However, people can take measures to prevent or delay the onset of kidney disease. Evidence notes that the best strategy for individuals living with diabetes is to manage blood glucose and keep levels within target range. Following the advice of a healthcare team can help a person control their blood sugar levels.
Tips for healthy kidneys
There are many steps people can take to ensure the health of their kidneys, including:
- reaching or maintaining a moderate body weight
- engaging in physical activity regularly
- quitting smoking
- Avoiding alcohol consumption
- modifying the diet, for example, by eating less salt and protein
- getting sufficient sleep
It is advisable for a person living with diabetes to regularly test their kidney function. Checking kidney health should be a consistent part of their diabetes healthcare appointments. These tests can help identify early signs of kidney damage.
If an individual notices any of the above symptoms, they should seek medical attention.