Chronic Kidney Disease: Help Your Patients Understand Risk Factors and Preventive Measures

Derek Robinson, M.D. ǀ April 16, 2024

Last month, on World Kidney Day, I was interviewed by a local TV station to improve community awareness about chronic kidney disease and CKD prevention. I’m following up here because this information may be helpful when you’re talking with your patients.

Getting the Conversation Started

Many of your patients may know someone with a friend or family member who’s getting dialysis or waiting for a kidney transplant. But unless they’ve experienced CKD themselves, your patients may not know about the condition and why aggressive treatments may be necessary.

I gave a quick overview in the TV segment: CKD is a gradual loss of kidney function. Normal kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from the blood, which then are removed in the urine. When the kidneys are damaged, they no longer filter blood as they should and CKD sets in, along with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Many don’t know that those with CKD may experience anemia, abnormal calcium, potassium and phosphorus levels, loss of appetite, infections, depression, and other conditions. If left unchecked, kidney disease can lead to more serious problems such as end-stage kidney failure, which can be fatal without artificial filtering (dialysis) or a kidney transplant.

Who’s Affected and Who’s at Risk

These facts and figures may help bring the topic of CKD a bit closer to home for some of your patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Kidney Foundation:

  • One in 3 adults in the U.S. (approximately 80 million) is at risk for kidney disease
  • About 37 million adults in the U.S. have kidney disease – that’s more than 1 in 7, or 15% of the adult population.
  • Nearly 90% of U.S adults with CKD don’t know they have it, including 40% of people with severely reduced kidney function (not on dialysis).
  • Every 24 hours, 360 people begin dialysis treatment for kidney failure.
  • Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney failure, accounting for 3 out of 4 new cases.

While anyone can get kidney disease at any age, some primary risk factors include:

  • Diabetes 
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Family history of kidney failure, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease
  • Obesity

In addition, other important risk factors for kidney disease include:

  • Being Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander heritage
  • Being age 60 or older
  • Having had a low birth weight      
  • A prolonged use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Having lupus or other autoimmune disorders
  • Having chronic urinary tract infections or kidney stones

Preventive Care and Screening

Your patients need to know they can help protect their kidneys by preventing or managing health conditions that cause kidney damage, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Preventive care includes healthy food choices – eating fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and foods low in salt and added sugars. Daily exercise, getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol consumption, stopping smoking, and aiming for a healthy weight also can aid in good kidney health. But it doesn’t stop there.

The best way for patients to know more about their kidney health is to get screened. On TV in February, I encouraged viewers to talk with their doctors about risk factors, a kidney health evaluation, and if they should get tested.

Related Reading

On the topic of screening, I invite you to refer back to this post: Chronic Kidney Disease: Examining Health Disparities in Communities of Color. I hope you find this information useful.

In closing …

On behalf of all of us here at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, thank you for working with us to support the health and wellness of our members, their families, and the larger community.

As always, we appreciate your time and value your feedback. If you have any comments you’d like to share, please email our Blue Review editor.

Reference Materials

  1. National Kidney Foundation, New Report: Advancing Kidney Health: A Call to Action, June 28, 2023.
  2. National Kidney Foundation website, Kidney Disease: The Basics.
  3. CDC website. Chronic Kidney Disease Initiative, Chronic Kidney Disease in the United States, 2023.
  4. America’s Health Rankings, United Health Foundation website, Chronic Kidney Disease in Illinois.
  5. Mayo Clinic website, Chronic kidney disease, Symptoms & causes.
  6. The Journal of Applied Laboratory Medicine, AACC/NKF Guidance Document on Improving Equity in Chronic Kidney Disease Care, June 28, 2023.
  7. NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website, Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease.

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician or other health care provider. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the appropriate course of treatment. References to third party sources or organizations are not a representation, warranty, or endorsement of such organizations. The fact that a service or treatment is described in this material is not a guarantee that the service or treatment is a covered benefit and members should refer to their certificate of coverage for more details, including benefits, limitations, and exclusions. Regardless of benefits, the final decision about any service or treatment is between the member and their health care provider. Further, the information presented is not intended to replace or supersede any requirements set forth in your contract with BCBSIL. Any samples or suggestions in this publication are for illustrative and/or educational purposes only and should not be relied on in determining how a specific provider will be reimbursed.