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The Widespread Affliction No One is Talking About: Kidney Disease

We all hear about the latest mosquito-borne threat of epidemic or the health issues that dominate the headlines. However, there are other health conditions that never seem to garner much attention, but are just as serious.

Consider kidney disease.

“We're very concerned [with] the increasing incidence of kidney disease in the American population,” said Dr. Melvin Yudis, chief of the Nephrology Division at Abington - Jefferson Health. “It's roughly 73 million Americans who are at risk for kidney disease, so we're talking one in three, roughly.”

There are two types of kidney disease to know about

First, there’s acute kidney injury, in which the kidneys can no longer filter waste from the blood. As long as the patient receives proper care, he or she can avoid having to go on dialysis, which is a treatment that separates toxins from the patient’s blood.

Causes of acute kidney injury include decreased blood flow to the kidneys, damage to the kidneys, and urinary tract blockage, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Second, and more severe, there’s chronic kidney disease, or CKD.

“CKD is a decrease in kidney function … usually less than 60 percent of normal … that is present for over three months,” Yudis said. Treatment often requires dialysis.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the primary causes of CKD, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

It’s important to know your family history

“Twenty-six million Americans actually have kidney disease,” which represents about eight percent of the country’s population, Dr. Yudis said. “The surprising and alarming part of that statistic is that ... most don't know.”

That’s why Yudis recommends knowing your family history. Your ethnicity could also be a factor; according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Issues, African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives are especially prone to kidney disease.

“If you already know someone in the family has a kidney problem or had a kidney problem and is on dialysis,” he said, “ or both [your] mom and dad have high blood pressure, these are clues that maybe [you] ought to get checked too.”

If you feel you are at risk for kidney disease based on your immediate family history or ethnicity, you can go to your primary care physician. Your doctor will administer a blood test to determine how healthy your kidneys are.

“The first thing to do is see your family physician,” Dr. Yudis said, “and then if that physician feels that ... there’s an issue here I want to take care of that concerns the kidneys, or potentially does, then the nephrologist becomes involved.”

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to prevention

A couple lifestyle habits Dr. Yudis recommends -- which could be used to preempt a wide array of health concerns -- are maintaining a low-sodium diet, making sure your weight falls within a normal range and drinking more fluids while reducing alcohol intake to one or two beverages per day maximum.

“Alcohol may be good in terms of the way it makes you feel,” he said, “but moderation is the word in terms of how much you can drink.”

If you’re a smoker, you leave yourself prone to more than just respiratory issues.

“We always think of stopping smoking that it helps the lungs, prevents coughs and lung cancer,” Yudis said. “But it is also important in terms of [preventing] kidney problems,” including kidney cancer.

To access an Abington - Jefferson Health nephrologist, please call 215-481-MEDI (6334) or search our online directory.

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