Are you Kidney Aware?

Nurse with a kidney model

Kidneys are essential to our health.

  • They get rid of excess water and toxins
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Make red blood cells
  • Keep bones strong

Kidneys are normally very efficient but when they are damaged or lose function over time, this is known as chronic kidney disease (CKD).

CKD affects over 3 million people in the UK but up to a million of these people may be undiagnosed. The biggest risk to CKD is from uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure. Other causes include problems with the immune system, infections or having an inherited kidney condition.

Early diagnosis and prompt treatment, as well as changes in diet and lifestyle, are vital and can often help slow down or prevent any further damage. Left unchecked, however, CKD can progress to kidney failure, which is fatal without treatment by dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Children as well as adults can be affected by kidney disease but this is usually owing to birth defects and inherited genetic kidney conditions.

Kidney Facts

  • Kidneys filter around 180 litres of blood every day
  • Kidney disease is common and can affect anyone, including children, and there is no cure
  • Kidney failure is fatal without dialysis or a transplant
  • Right now, around 64,000 people in the UK are being treated for kidney failure
  • 5,200 people are waiting for a kidney, yet only around 3,300 transplants are carried out each year in the UK
  • An estimated 60,000 people in the UK die prematurely due to kidney disease each year
  • Nearly 1,000 children in the UK have kidneys which have completely failed and require lifelong treatment
  • Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a sudden drop in kidney function due to serious illness. It affects 1 in 5 people admitted to hospital as an emergency and may be more deadly than a heart attack
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are five times more likely to experience kidney failure than other groups
  • Uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure are the biggest causes of kidney disease
  • One in four adults (one in five children) in the UK are severely overweight, which is a major risk for developing kidney disease
  • Smoking slows blood flow to the kidneys and stops them working properly
  • One in three women get a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime. UTIs can spread to the kidneys causing damage
  • Although women with kidney disease face additional risks in pregnancy, both to themselves and their unborn baby, outcomes have greatly improved and with careful planning beforehand and close monitoring throughout, the majority of women have successful pregnancies, even when on long term dialysis

How to improve your kidney health

Although anyone can develop kidney disease, there are a few things that can increase your risk:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Black, Asian or minority ethnic background

There are several easy ways to reduce the risk of developing kidney disease. Some small changes in behaviour and lifestyle (including taking more exercise) can have enormous health benefits.

  • Monitor your blood pressure – High blood pressure accelerates kidney damage. To protect yourself from kidney disease you should also maintain a diet low in salt and saturated fats
  • Keep fit and active – This helps reduce your blood pressure and therefore reduces the risk of kidney disease
  • Don’t smoke – Smoking slows blood flow to the kidneys, decreasing their ability to function properly
  • Eat healthily and keep your weight in check – This can help prevent diabetes, heart disease and other conditions associated with kidney disease
  • Get your kidney function tested – If anyone in your family has suffered from kidney disease, you are diabetic or have high blood pressure or are severely overweight
  • Keep well hydrated – This helps the kidneys clear sodium, urea and toxins from the body which can significantly lower the risk of developing kidney disease. (Dialysis patients may need to restrict their fluid intake)
  • Get advice – If you know that you have kidney disease and become unwell e.g. with diarrhoea and vomiting, get advice from your doctor about the medications you are taking.