People with diabetes have a high risk of developing kidney problems. In fact, diabetes is the number one cause of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in the United States. Yet according to Dr. Joseph Coresh, MD, PhD, less than 10% of people with kidney disease are even aware that they have a problem.[1]

The kidneys are crucial for maintaining a healthy body. They filter both toxins and extra fluid from the bloodstream. In people with diabetes, excess sugar in the blood makes the filters in the kidneys, called nephrons, work harder than usual. Eventually, the nephrons and the blood vessels running through them become overworked. Consequently, the kidneys suffer damage. They work and less efficiently, leading to a build-up of toxins in the body.

Many of the symptoms of kidney disease are easy to miss, as they could be caused by any number of reasons. Some of the symptoms include[2]: changes in urination (burning sensation, difficulty in urinating, blood in the urine); fluid retention, causing swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, face, or hands; fatigue; skin rashes or itching; nausea or vomiting (also leading to weight loss); shortness of breath; coldness; dizziness or memory problems; and pain in the legs, back, or side. High blood pressure can also be an indicator of kidney disease, since even mild hypertension can impair the healthy functioning of the kidneys.[3]

A reliable way to diagnose kidney problems is with a GFR test. The GFR, or glomerular filtration rate, is a measure of how well your kidneys are working. The GFR test tells how much creatinine is in your blood. Creatinine, which is formed when the muscles work, is a waste product that can accumulate over time. When the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, the creatinine levels rise. The GFR test gives a numerical “grade” that tells whether your kidneys are working optimally or not.

There are some important steps that people with diabetes can take to prevent or slow the progress of kidney disease. First and foremost is controlling your blood sugar. Keeping hypertension in check is important, too. Some high blood pressure medicines can even help to protect the kidneys. Finally, avoiding certain medications that are toxic to the kidneys is a good idea. These medications include some pain killers, such as those which combine aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine. Ask your doctor about the effects of pain killers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.[4]