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renal health

Renal Health: It can all go wrong very quickly

In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the instances of renal failure in South Africa. The two most common conditions that cause kidney damage are high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes, both being prevalent owing to poor eating habits.

Kidney disease is often diagnosed very late, as the symptoms mimic other, more well-known diseases. When our kidneys are severely damaged, the symptoms can be quite vague: feeling very tired, not being able to concentrate at work and swelling of the feet. So we may see a nurse or a doctor for help, but they may not think the kidneys are the cause. We may also be given — or buy — medicines that can cause further damage to these vital organs, says an article on Kidney Disease in South Africa, published in the Mail and Guardian.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a major public health concern, says the Kidney Foundation. Regular testing for everyone is important but it is especially important for people at risk of renal failure.

Who is at risk?

People who are most likely to develop kidney problems are those who have diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and a history of heart and kidney disease in their genes.

Other factors are obesity, lifestyle and general health.

What are the signs?

There are several signs that point to renal disease and failure. Most common are excessive thirst, trouble urinating, dry skin, the urge to urinate more often than usual and blood in the urine.

More signs and symptoms are swollen facial features, especially swelling around the eyes; foamy urine and itchy patches of skin. Many people also experience frequent muscle cramps.

Blood in the urine

This is possibly the most important sign that something is wrong. If you notice blood in your urine, go to see your doctor.

Kidney.org explains that healthy kidneys typically keep the blood cells in the body when filtering waste from the blood to create urine, but when the kidney’s filters have been damaged, these blood cells can start to “leak” out into the urine. In addition to signalling kidney disease, blood in the urine can be indicative of tumours, kidney stones or an infection.

What is Dialysis?

When your kidneys reach the point of needing dialysis, it means that you have reached the final stage of kidney failure.

Basically, dialysis mimics the function of normal kidneys, allowing your body to filter out toxins, with the use of a dialysis machine.

The machine assists by removing waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body and keeping a safe level of certain chemicals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate; helping to control blood pressure.

Most dialysis is performed in hospital. The procedure is costly and requires the patient to have a medical aid or medical insurance plan. When you have dialysis done through the public health sector, it could mean landing on a long waiting list.

There are two types of dialysis: haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.


How do I prevent kidney failure?

Kidney failure is a result of an underlying condition. Trying to stay as fit and healthy as possible is the best way to ensure that all your vital organs are in tip top shape.

Exercise, a healthy diet and staying away from salt are key to having good kidney function. Also, be sure to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day.

Limit your alcohol intake, as alcohol dehydrates you. Also avoid tobacco and foods high in saturated fat.

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