Being Kind to Your Kidneys: Preventing Problems

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Now that you know a little more (or have refreshed your memory a bit) about diabetes and kidney disease, as well as the tests you need to see how healthy your kidneys are, you’re ready for the most important part: what you can do to prevent kidney problems from happening in the first place.

Focus on blood glucose control.
It’s no surprise that keeping your A1C and your blood glucose levels in a safe range is the first step. In fact, doing so can help reduce your risk for all of the complications related to diabetes. In case you need reminding, your A1C level should likely be less than 7%. However, your goal may be different, so that’s why it’s important to have a talk with your health-care provider about this. As far as blood glucose levels, for most people, the goal is 70–130 mg/dl before meals and less than 180 mg/dl two hours after meals.

If your numbers aren’t within these ranges, you’ll likely need a tweak to your diabetes treatment plan. This may involve increasing and/or adding medicine, focusing on your food and activity plan, checking your blood glucose more often, or all of the above.

Keep your blood pressure under control.
I’ve written previously about blood pressure, so I won’t go into too much depth here about it. But you should know that the blood pressure goal for people with diabetes has changed slightly, from less than 130/80 to less than 140/80. Again, yours may be different. Blood pressure can be notoriously tricky to manage, and most people with high blood pressure need medicine (and sometimes two or three medicines) to bring it into a safe range. Remember that you can’t “feel” if your blood pressure is high, so always make sure it’s checked at every doctor’s visit, and if it does tend to run high, purchase a home blood pressure monitor and check it regularly.

If your health-care provider has prescribed blood pressure medicine for you, be sure to take it. That may sound silly, but a surprising number of people don’t take their blood pressure medicine. If you have trouble taking yours or if you can’t afford it, let your provider know, because other options may be available.

Watch out for signs of kidney problems.
If you think you have a urinary tract infection or a bladder infection, it’s important to get treated right away. Signs of these problems include painful and/or frequent urination, back pain, chills, or bloody or cloudy urine.

Change your food choices.
Easier said than done, but a study out of Johns Hopkins University revealed that people who ate a “bad” diet, meaning a diet high in processed and red meats, sodium, and sugar-sweetened drinks, were more likely to get kidney disease. In general, aim to:

• Lower your sodium intake. Go easy on canned and processed foods and put away the saltshaker.

• Skip the processed foods. Salty snack foods, fast foods, instant rice and potato mixes, and deli meats are not only high in sodium, but they’re high in other ingredients that may be damaging to your kidneys.

• Watch the red meat. Animal protein that is also high in saturated fat can be harmful to your kidneys if you eat too much. Watch portions and limit how often you eat steak, burgers, and other red meats.

• Slash the sugar. You might be doing this already for your diabetes. Sugary drinks and other sweet treats can make it hard to control your blood glucose and your weight. High blood glucose levels and being overweight or obese are risk factors for kidney disease.

Focus on a heart-healthy lifestyle.
In addition to watching your blood glucose and blood pressure, keep an eye on your cholesterol, your weight, and your level of physical activity. Researchers have found that people who have kidney disease are less likely to develop kidney failure by staying active, eating healthfully, not smoking, and aiming for a safe cholesterol level.

All of these steps may seem like a lot of work, but chances are, you’re doing a lot of them already. Put your energy into areas where you need the most help, whether it’s getting your A1C or blood pressure down, losing some weight, or making better food choices. Ask your provider, dietitian, or diabetes educator for help in keeping your kidneys as healthy as they can be.

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