Chronic kidney disease is on the rise in Australia, but the condition is treatable if it's detected early enough... Think you might need to see a specialist? Contact Dr Gavin Lee, Nephrologist, to make an appointment.
Article by Milissa Deitz | bodyandsoul.com.au
During Kidney Health Week last May, Brendan Edwards, from Bendigo, pleaded with people to get kidney health checks. The transplant patient says knowing about a kidney problem early is a big advantage. He told ABC radio: "I was able to get good medical advice about eating the right foods and go on medication to keep my blood pressure low." Other family members weren't so lucky - Edwards has had five siblings die from kidney disease.
According to non-profit organisation Kidney Health Australia, chronic kidney disease (CKD), the long-term and usually irreversible loss of kidney function, is a significant and growing public health problem. In Australia, one in three adults has an increased risk of developing CKD and one in seven adults has at least one clinical sign of existing CKD. Healthy kidneys act like a filter to make sure the right amount of wastes and fluids are removed, as well as balancing salts and acids in the body. Every day our kidneys filter 200 litres of blood in order to remove about two litres of waste products and unneeded water.
Chronic Kidney Disease In Australia, the 2005 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, found that an increasing number of Australians are at risk of CKD. But there is good news, says Anne Wilson, CEO of Kidney Health Australia. She explains that while reduction in kidney function cannot usually be reversed, if it is detected early enough the progress can be slowed and sometimes even prevented. In the early stages, changes to diet and medication can help to increase the life of the kidneys.
"A person can lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function and not have any symptoms," explains Wilson. "About two million Australians are affected by early-stage kidney disease and don't know it. But it is treatable if it's detected early enough."
Dr Tim Mathew, medical director of Kidney Health Australia, says that while the number of people presenting with kidney failure and requiring dialysis or transplantation is increasing, it doesn't necessarily mean there is more kidney failure in the community. "More people are being offered dialysis to extend their lives as kidney failure occurs," he says.
"There hasn't been an Australian survey on a repeating basis, but the information we have suggests that there is more kidney disease. I also suspect there is more now than there was 10 or 20 years ago because there is more diabetes and we have an ageing population. Both these states are associated with kidney disease."
"The kidney is increasingly recognised as an integral part of the complex events which ultimately lead to the ageing of the body. If you have kidney disease, then heart disease, strokes and dementia are more common - all those vascular issues are increased in frequency and occur at an earlier age. If you have heart disease, your chance of contracting kidney disease is markedly increased as well. We talk about CKD as being a multiplier."
Those at increased risk, says Dr Mathew, are "anyone who has diabetes or high blood pressure, who smokes, is obese, of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, or over 50. If anyone has any of these risk factors, at any age, we recommend they have a kidney check performed. A kidney check is simple and not costly - just a blood and a urine test from your GP."
CKD has numerous impacts on both individual health and health services. With risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure highly prevalent in Australia, in 2005 and 2006, one-third of all admissions to public hospitals were due to dialysis.
The cost of treating kidney disease in Australia is rising by $50 million a year and will jump from $700 million in 2006 to $900 million in 2010, according to a report, The Economic Impact Of Kidney Disease In Australia, undertaken by the George Institute of International Health two years ago.
Kidney damage can be delayed or prevented by improving blood glucose control and lowering blood pressure. Experts who addressed the Kidney Health Australia Internations Summit in Sydney last year advised that the most significant way of dealing with kidney disease was to introduce screening of high-risk patients.
Dr Mathew adds: "The key aspect that is lacking in Australia is recognition of the risk groups and doing simple kidney health checks."
Every Australian can take steps to minimise the possibility of contracting kidney disease by keeping fit, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking, says Wilson.
"CKD is common and harmful, but it is treatable. One of the secrets is early detection," says Wilson. "The other is prevention." Medication and changes to lifestyle, along with an early referral to a kidney specialist, can prevent or delay kidney failure.
Are you at risk?
More than 500,000 Australians a year consult their doctors about kidney disease and urinary tract infections. One in seven Australian adults has some sign of chronic kidney disease and one in 35 actually has serious kidney disease, says Dr Tim Matthew from Kidney Health Australia.
You are more at risk of chronic kidney disease if you: