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Keep Your Kidneys Clear from the Harms of Diabetes

Filters keep grounds out of your coffee, spam from reaching your in-box, and dust from blowing through your furnace vent. When it comes to your body, two important filters—your kidneys—keep you healthy by removing harmful waste products from your blood.

When you have diabetes, the risk increases that these filters will stop working properly. Eventually, your kidneys may fail, requiring either an artificial blood-cleaning treatment or a kidney transplant. About 30 percent of people with type 1 diabetes and up to 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes eventually progress to kidney failure.

Still, having diabetes doesn’t mean you’re doomed to kidney (also called renal) disease. You and your doctor can work together to prevent and slow the progress of kidney problems.

Meet Your Kidneys

Make a fist, then place it at your lower back. Nestle it just underneath your rib cage and beside your spine. Now you understand the approximate size and location of your kidneys.

Inside each bean-shaped organ, you’ll find about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each nephron contains a filter, called the glomerulus, and a tubule. These components work together to remove waste from the body and produce urine.

Together, your kidneys process about 150 quarts of blood per day. They produce about 2 quarts of urine, composed of waste and extra fluid. If these materials stayed in your blood, they’d build up and harm your body.

Learn the Stages

If you don’t control your blood glucose levels, excess sugar causes your kidneys to work harder. As the delicate filters wear down, protein begins to leak into the urine. Doctors call this stage proteinuria. Your body begins to retain some wastes and your blood pressure increases. Other symptoms include weight gain, ankle swelling, and having to use the bathroom more often.

If you spot kidney disease early, a specialist called a nephrologist can help you make changes that allow your kidneys to function for as long as possible. But even with the right treatment, you may progress to chronic renal failure. Harmful waste products such as urea and creatinine build up in your bloodstream. As a result, you may:

  • Feel nauseated and vomit

  • Develop swollen ankles

  • Feel fatigued

  • Lose your appetite

  • Experience confusion and headaches

Eventually, your kidneys may fail completely, a condition called end-stage renal disease. At this stage, you’ll need one of three treatments:

  • Hemodialysis, in which a machine filters your blood for you

  • Peritoneal dialysis, where your doctor fills the lining of your abdomen with fluid to strain your blood

  • A kidney transplant

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