March is National Kidney Month, an opportunity to raise awareness for kidney health and education, and urge people to give their kidneys a second thought and a well-deserved checkup. These efforts hope to reduce the frequency and impact of kidney disease and the health problems associated worldwide. Renal disease, a condition in which the kidneys lose the ability to remove waste and balance fluids often necessitates a kidney transplant, prompting the patient to be listed on the national waiting list. Today, more than 80% of the candidates waiting for a life-saving organ transplant are in need of a kidney.

The kidneys play a vital role in the overall health and daily workings of the body. Filtering around 200 liters of blood a day, they help regulate blood pressure, balance body fluids, and remove waste from the blood. Unfortunately, they are also prone to disease; 1 in 3 Americans is at risk for kidney disease due to diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of kidney failure. There are more than 26 million Americans who already have kidney disease. Frequently, people are unaware of a kidney problem as there are often no symptoms until the disease has progressed.

Karsten Pro Shot Crop squareKidney disease is also more prominent in African American communities with diabetes being the leading cause of kidney failure. Approximately 4.9 million African Americans over 20 years of age are living with either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes. Before being diagnosed with kidney failure, Karsten Weathersby had a carefree life filled with friends, sports, and video games until he began to notice several changes in his health. Eventually he became so weak that even walking short distances became a daunting task and dialysis became necessary, drastically changing the way he lived his life. His condition consumed his free time and limited his ability to participate in his friends’ lives. Today, post kidney transplant, Karsten passionately lives his life to the fullest. “I try to fill my free time with as much as possible because I know what it’s like not to have that time.”

Both diabetes and high blood pressure are key risk factors in identifying Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Systematic screening for all patients with diabetes and hypertension can help identity CKD earlier and help prevent the disease from developing further. Medical professionals play a key role in detecting and reducing the risk of CKD, especially in high risk populations. Kidney disease can be curbed with the right preventative behaviors and screenings, as well as a heightened awareness in the medical community.

During National Kidney Month, and in honor of World Kidney Day on March 10, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) offers the following health activities to promote awareness of kidneys, risk factors and kidney disease:

  • Keep fit and active
  • Keep regular control of your blood sugar level
  • Monitor your blood pressure
  • Eat healthy and keep your weight in check
  • Maintain a healthy fluid intake
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not take over-the-counter pills on a regular basis

For more on these tips, visit the World Kidney Day website.