she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, or CKD, Kerri
Gwinn-Harris, 51, never gave her kidneys much thought.
"Every year, I got a mammogram, Pap smear and exam, but
who thinks to check their kidneys?" she said.
January 2014, she awoke in the hospital to the faces of her
worried children. "I thought I had sat down at home to
watch a movie," recalled the Ballwin, Mo., corporate
trainer. "But Iíd passed out, and my daughter got me to
the hospital." The next four months were a blur of
medical procedures and doctor referrals. She did not get
relief from symptoms, including back pain, ankle swelling and
lethargy, until she assembled a team that included a
nephrologist (kidney specialist), urologist and renal (kidney)
taught me to manage the disease," Gwinn-Harris said.
"I learned what I canít eat, like beef, and should eat,
like certain vegetables. I lost 50 pounds and started drinking
a gallon of water a day, walking and doing Zumba
dancing." While there is no cure for CKD, she slowed its
progression, eliminated symptoms and avoided the treatments
for later-stage CKD ó dialysis (cleaning the blood with a
machine) or kidney transplant.
is among the 26 million Americans who have kidney disease,
according to the National Kidney Foundation. Not everyone
catches it in time; it kills 47,000 people a year.
best way to prevent kidney disease is to change your
genes," joked foundation spokesman Dr. Leslie Spry, a
Lincoln, Neb., nephrologist. "Other than that, 60 percent
of it is preventable."
on either side of the abdomen, the kidneys are the bodyís
"wastewater-treatment center," Spry said. They
filter your blood, help regulate blood pressure, produce red
blood cells, process vitamin D and balance sodium, phosphorous
us are born with two kidneys, but we can live with one. In
fact, 1 to 5 percent of people are born with one.
CKD contributes to heart disease, hypertension, weak bones,
nerve damage, kidney failure and death.
lifestyle changes can prevent or slow kidney disease:
the symptoms ó or lack of.
kidney cancer can progress quietly without symptoms. Kidney
stones (crystallized minerals), though, may hurt like heck.
CKD may make you tired and thirsty, with swollen extremities.
You may have to urinate often, with foamy or dark urine. Or,
like Gwinn-Harris, you may black out.
disease and its risk factors run in families. So intertwined
are obesity, hypertension and diabetes in families with kidney
disease, Gwinn-Harris describes them as the perfect storm.
"When I got sick," she said, "we connected the
more likely to develop kidney disease if youíre older than
60, smoke or have recurrent urinary-tract infections or an
and Hispanics are much more likely to develop kidney disease
than are Caucasians or Asians. Men are twice as likely to get
kidney cancer than are women. Kidney stones favor Caucasians
disease from long-term use of some painkillers is so common
that thereís a name for it: analgesic nephropathy. If you
have chronic pain, a nephrologist can tell you which drugs are
easier on your kidneys.
birth weight was low, your kidneys have fewer nephrons (tiny
filters), so they have reduced filtering ability.
frequently dehydrated can cause kidney stones.
tests signal kidney disease.
measured by an arm cuff, can mean you have damaged blood
vessels in the kidneys.
window to your health," urine, shows multiple
kidney-disease red flags, said Dr. Propa Ghosh, a urologist at
Hunterdon Healthcare System in Flemington, N.J.
test may point to CKD by measuring levels of waste products
such as creatinine. Based on your age, race and gender, your
doctor calculates your glomerular filtration rate.
silent is kidney cancer, itís usually found incidentally,
Ghosh said. "You have a scan for another problem, and we
find a mass on your kidney," she said.
identify kidney stones, a blood test measures excess calcium
or uric acid, while urine shows excretion of stone-forming
minerals. A CAT scan or ultrasound test locates the stones.
kidney-friendly diet keeps your blood pressure, cholesterol
and blood-sugar levels in check. If you do not have kidney
disease or are in the early stages, a menu like the DASH diet
is a good template, said Linda McCann,renal dietitian with
Satellite Healthcare in San Jose, Calif. "It has fewer
salts, sugars and meats, and more fruits, vegetables and whole
grains," she said. Bottom line, "cook from scratch
and avoid processed food."
kidney disease calls for the advice of a renal dietitian.
"Then, your kidneys can handle less protein, potassium,
calcium and dairy products," McCann said. "And the
drugs you take could compromise vitamins from food."
grapefruit, which interacts with many drugs. Scan food labels
for additives such as phosphorous and salt, which affect
kidneys. Beware the effects of herbal supplements. Too much
alcohol can lead to hypertension ó bad news for your
exercise goes hand in hand with a good diet. It prevents
obesity, a kidney-disease harbinger. "Try to at least
walk," McCann tells CKD patients who are too tired or
nauseous for more taxing exercise.
if kidney disease lurks in your family tree, keep up with
advances such as new home-dialysis machines that save you from
commuting to the hospital.
biggest news, Ghosh said, is in surgery, which is less
invasive and more precise thanks to robotics. More kidney
surgeries are laparoscopic, with small incisions, and more
often spare the kidney.
procedures require no scalpel, such as the blasting of kidney
stones with shock waves from the outside of the body or the
breaking of them by lasers reached via the bladder.
the patient goes home the same day," Ghosh said.
"Thereís less pain and less blood loss."
enduring decades of chronic pyelonephritis (kidney infections)
and multiple surgeries, including a kidney transplant, Bobbi
Wager, 57, of San Antonio, Tex., learned to be the No. 1
advocate for her health. Then she became a nephrology nurse to
help others too.
proactive," Wager said. Although she had to have a second
transplant, she outlived each life span her doctors predicted.
Now she runs a hospital renal-care unit, plays tennis and
keeps up with her four Scottish terriers.
pays it forward by urging people to register for organ
donation (after they die) and enroll in shared-donor programs
that match recipients with live donors. About 185,000
Americans live with kidney transplants, according to the
National Kidney Foundation, but thousands die every year while
waiting for kidneys.
urges people at risk to educate their families. "I even
called all the cousins," she said. "My kids are
exercising, eating healthy foods and keeping their weight and
blood pressure down. Their generation can break the