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Kidneys: The Chemical Factories of the Human Body

By Dr. Derek Robinson, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

About 37 million adults in the U.S. have kidney disease. Nearly 90% of them don’t even know they have it because it’s under diagnosed by doctors. March is National Kidney Month and a great time to talk to your doctor about your risk factors and whether you should be tested. 

Most people with kidney disease don’t have symptoms until the disease is advanced, when treatment is more difficult. And if you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of kidney disease. 

Screening for kidney disease can be a urine or blood test or both. Tell your doctor about your family’s medical history, especially if someone close to you has kidney disease.

While some long-term kidney health problems run in the family, anyone can get kidney disease. It’s often caused by common health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes.

When the kidneys are damaged, they no longer filter blood the way they should. Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, sets in and can lead to other health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Those with CKD may also deal with anemia, infections, abnormal calcium, potassium and phosphorus levels, loss of appetite, and depression.

CKD usually gets worse over time, but treatment can slow its progression. Left untreated, it can morph into kidney failure. At that point, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to survive.

Until recently, a race modifier was widely used in the estimation of kidney function for African Americans, leading to an over estimation of kidney function and CKD diagnosis delays among African Americans. Most labs, hospitals and physicians now use a race-neutral formula, but patients should be aware a race modifier to estimate GFR is no longer appropriate and advocate for themselves. 

Talk to your doctor about getting a kidney health evaluation. Read more about kidney disease.

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own best medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the best course of treatment.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association