By: Dr. Allen R. Nissenson, MD, FACP
Ten years ago, Valinda Jones was a busy African American woman with moderately high blood pressure. Devoted to her family and her career as a labor and delivery nurse, Jones was always on the go, but a lot of the time, she was tired. When I became her nephrologist (a kidney specialist), she told me, “I was a nurse, working two jobs and a single mother. I thought I was supposed to be tired.”
Unfortunately, a loss of protein in her urine and her fatigue were messages from Jones’ body – her kidneys were slowly failing. Despite the fact that she was a nurse, Jones had no idea her very life was at risk until she was in crisis and her kidney function could not be saved.
Back then, Jones didn’t know that high blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney failure. She also didn’t know that being African American put her at four times the risk of kidney disease as her white counterparts. So for five long years, Jones was on peritoneal dialysis – a home dialysis option that filters the blood of toxins and excess fluids, which is normally the kidneys’ job.
“Dialysis isn’t easy,” said Jones. “I’m grateful every day that it saved my life, and I’m grateful for the amazing care I received, but in some ways life began again when I got my kidney transplant.”
20 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD), and many have no idea until they’re in a medical crisis. That’s because kidney disease is often symptomless until the kidneys fail, causing a medical emergency. There’s a lot that patients can do about CKD – if they find out early enough that they have it.
- Know your risks: Diabetes. High blood pressure. A family history of kidney disease. Being an African American, Hispanic, Native Alaskan, or of Pacific Islander descent. These are some of the major risk factors, but there are others. Take the risk assessment quiz at davita.com/kidneyaware.
- Take the pledge: Pledge online to get a simple blood test for kidney disease if you have risk factors.
- Get tested: Follow through and ask your doctor for a blood test to measure your kidney function.
To learn more about kidney disease, please visit davita.com/kidneyaware or the National Kidney Foundation’s website at www.kidney.org. Being proactive about your health could make a world of difference.