INTRODUCTION TO KIDNEY FAILURE
The kidneys play many important roles, key of which is regulating substances in your body. This includes the amount of salt and water, waste and toxins, acid levels, and salts and minerals.
They also help your body form enough blood cells and help keep your bones healthy.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS
You may not realise you have kidney failure until your disease has become very serious. This is because the symptoms show up only when your kidneys are seriously damaged. These symptoms include:
- Soapy urine or frothy urine, which may be because there is protein in the urine
- Blood in the urine, which usually reflects the underlying kidney disease
- Chronic generalised itch
- Passing a large amount of urine especially at night (called nocturia), or too little urine
- Numbness of the feet
- Bad breath, known as a uremic fetor
- Insomnia, loss of appetite and always feeling tired
- Swelling of the legs (called oedema)
WHAT CAUSES IT
Some of the causes of kidney failure include:
- Diabetic nephropathy: This happens if you have diabetes but do not keep it under control for a long time. It is also known as the final stage of renal disease. Diabetic patients in such a situation also have other problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, eye disease, gangrene and are also prone to infections.
- Chronic glomerulonephritis: This condition affect a specific and tiny part of the kidney called the glomerulus.
- Polycystic kidney disease: This condition is something your parents or ancestors had, and passed down to you through your genes. It is linked to sacs of fluid (cysts) in the kidney. If you have this condition, you may also suffer other problems such as high blood pressure, kidney stones and recurrent infections linked to your urine or kidneys.
- Lupus Nephritis: People with the immune disorder systemic lupus erythromatosus (SLE) usually develop kidney disease. If you have this, you usually experience symptoms such as hair loss, joint pains especially of the hands, wrists and knees, facial rash and mouth ulcers.
- Reflux nephropathy: This condition is something your parents or ancestors had, and passed down to you through your genes. It is caused by infections you had as a child from urine moving backwards from the bladder into the kidney, which leads to kidney scarring, loss of kidney tissue and kidney failure.
HOW IT IS DIAGNOSED
As you may not realise you have kidney failure until it is too late, you should go for regular physical check-ups and tests to check for kidney disease.
Your doctor would usually test your urine for blood, protein or other substances.
You may also go for a blood test to check if there is an unusual amount of substance in your blood because your kidneys could not regulate them properly.
Eventually, you may need to go for a kidney biopsy. This means a piece of your kidney is taken out for the doctor to examine and check what kind of disease you may have.
HOW IT IS TREATED
You can keep kidney failure under control with medicine and by watching what you eat. But if you have end-stage kidney failure, you can be treated via two ways only: dialysis or a transplant.
- Dialysis: There are two kinds of dialysis. Haemodialysis is when you use an artificial kidney to remove waste and other substances from your blood. A doctor would need to open a blood vessel using surgery to give the artificial kidney access to your blood. The other dialysis is called peritoneal dialysis and is when your doctor places a plastic tube in your belly. When you go for dialysis, the tube fills your belly with a fluid that absorbs waste and other substances.
- Transplant: This is considered the best way to treat kidney failure, as patients can lead a regular life afterwards. But the waiting list for a kidney transplant is very long and some patients may not be eligible because of age or certain medical conditions.
HOW TO PREVENT IT
You can prevent kidney failure by doing the following:
- Taking care of your high blood pressure: This means taking medication, monitoring your pressure level, cutting down on sodium in your diet and losing weight.
- Anti-proteinuric therapy: You can take medicine to reduce how much protein is removed in your urine. But this is not suitable for all patients, and has side-effects such as very severe cough and allergies.
- Cut down on protein in your diet: This can slow down kidney failure, but is suitable only if you have been eating well and can do well with less protein.
- Control your cholesterol level: A low-fat diet can help prevent kidney failure if you have a slightly higher level of fat in your blood. Otherwise, you will need medicine.
- Tackle the cause of kidney failure, such as diabetes or reflux neuropathy
Source: Singapore Silver Pages, an initiative by the Agency for Integrated.
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