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How a kidney health check can save your life

A kidney health check is a combination of three tests

A woman having her blood pressure taken by her doctor
A woman having her blood pressure taken by her doctor

Detoxing may have become a popular health trend, but did you know you already have a very efficient waste disposal system hard at work cleaning your blood 24/7? Your kidneys.

Every day, these two fist-sized organs, just below the ribcage, filter around 200 litres of blood. Their key functions are to remove waste and excess fluid from your body.

Your kidneys are so efficient that any problems only reveal themselves when they’ve lost 90% function. Surprisingly, of the estimated 1.7 million Australian adults with signs of kidney disease, 1.5 million are not aware they are unwell.

Because of this, early detection is vital; kidney-related disease kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer or even road accidents.

Knowing your risk factors and getting a regular kidney health check may save your life.

What is a kidney health check?

A kidney health check is a combination of three tests, which can be performed by your GP:

  • A blood test to determine the level of waste products in your blood

  • A urine test to check your urine for the presence of blood or a type of protein called albumin

  • A blood pressure test as high blood pressure can cause kidney disease, and vice versa

“Early detection of kidney disease has been shown to slow, and in some cases halt, the progression of the disease,” says Kidney Health Australia Chief Executive Officer, Chris Forbes.

If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you are advised to get a Kidney Health Check every year.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease?

When your kidney function is damaged, they’re less able to filter your blood and control the body's water levels. This leads to a buildup of fluid and waste in the body.

Symptoms of unhealthy kidneys include:

  • Frequent urination

  • Frothy urine

  • Blood in your urine

  • Puffiness around your eyes

  • Swollen legs and ankles

  • Pain in your kidney area

  • Tiredness

  • Dry, itchy skin

  • Difficulty concentrating

A man in a consultation with his doctor

If left untreated, your kidneys may eventually stop working completely. This means you have to go on a treatment called dialysis, where you get hooked up to a machine that filters extra fluid and cleans waste out of your blood for you. You may also need a kidney transplant.

Related: Is this your year to get healthy? Here’s how nib can help

What are the risk factors of kidney disease?

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, with high blood pressure coming in a close second. Together, they cause over 50% of kidney disease in Australia.

Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Previous acute kidney injury

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Family history of kidney failure

  • Being aged over 60

  • Being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin

What can I do to keep my kidneys healthy?

To keep your kidneys as healthy as possible, Kidney Health Australia recommends that you:

  • Stop smoking. “This is the simplest, most important lifestyle habit to change if you want to reduce your risk of kidney disease,” Chris says.

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Maintain a healthy weight with diet and exercise

  • Limit alcohol

“The real danger with kidney disease is people can be on the brink of kidney failure before they suspect anything is wrong,” says Chris. “Lifestyle modification is a key strategy in managing the disease.”

Related: 9 reasons to quit smoking today

‘I was tired all the time’

For father of five, Shane Jeeves, a routine check at his GP picked up very high blood pressure which eventually lead to a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease in 2013.

“I was very tired all the time and my urine was always bubbly, I thought maybe it was something I was drinking.”

Because Shane wasn’t experiencing any other symptoms in the earlier stages of his kidney disease, it was a huge shock when he was told his kidney function was only 6% in early 2019.

Shane Jeeves and his partner

“I had a bloated face, bloated ankles and I couldn’t get out of bed. I went up to 105 kilos, but most of it was fluid. I pushed in my ankle as it looked weird and it dinted – I thought that’s really weird, you shouldn’t have that much fluid.”

Now on life-saving dialysis four days a week, 48-year-old Shane says that he wasn’t aware until it was too late that he could have done more to manage his diagnosis.

“Because things were okay for so long after I was diagnosed, and I was still fit and active, I suppose there was an element of denial. But I was putting things in my body that were making it worse and in the end, that lack of awareness was the biggest thing to get over.

“Now I know that if you get that early diagnoses, don’t become blasé about it, make sure you do investigate it.”

Kidney Health Australia is urging the one in three Australians at risk of kidney disease to take the online Kidney Risk Test.

Has it been a while since your last check-up?

It might be time to book an appointment with a GP. Our Find a Provider service allows you to search for health professionals like GPs in your local area.

If you’re heading to your GP for a check-up, it could be a good opportunity to find out what other examinations you might be due for.