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How to Prevent Diabetic Kidney Disease

How to Prevent Diabetic Kidney Disease

Diabetes can lead to complications that involve many organs including your kidneys. How can uncontrolled blood-sugar levels lead to kidney disease? More importantly, how can you protect your kidneys from diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus – A Review

Before we fully understand how diabetes affects your kidneys, let’s first have a little review of this health condition.

Diabetes happens when your body has difficulty in producing or using insulin. Insulin is a hormone responsible for controlling the amount of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. When you have high levels of blood sugar, it might negatively affect the different parts of your body, including the brain, eyes, heart, and of course, kidneys.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus: Type 1 and Type 2, with Type 2 being more common than Type 1. Learn more about their differences when you read this article.

Diabetes: Everything you need to know

How Diabetes Affects the Kidneys

According to reports, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. In fact, 1 out of 4 people with diabetes also have kidney disease. But how does it happen?

Through the Tiny Blood Vessels in the Kidneys

Our kidneys have numerous, tiny blood vessels inside them. These tiny vessels work hard to filter our blood so that our body can remove the toxic wastes by passing urine. When we have uncontrolled levels of sugar in the blood, the vessels may become clogged and narrowed.

This is a problematic scenario since the filtering system will be negatively affected. Some of the substances which are still useful (proteins) pass through the holes of the filter and end up in the urine.

Through the Nerves of the Body

Another way by which diabetes affects our kidneys is through the nerves. Nerves send messages between the brain and different parts of the body, such as the urinary bladder.

Normally, when the bladder is full, its nerves will send a message to the brain, signaling the need to urinate. However, when you have damaged nerves, you may not feel it even when your bladder is already full.

Over time, the pressure from a full bladder may damage the kidneys.

Through Urinary Tract Infection

Now, since you cannot feel it when your bladder is full, the urine stays in there longer. This is not good because the longer the urine stays in the bladder, the higher the risk that the infection-causing bacteria will grow. It also doesn’t help that urine with high glucose levels (a common situation amongst diabetics) helps the bacteria to grow more rapidly.

In the long run, this infection to the bladder, a condition called cystitis, may spread to the kidneys and cause some damages.

Managing Type 2 Diabetes in Adults

The Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Kidney Disease

Once the kidneys sustain considerable damage due to poorly managed diabetes, you may develop the complication known as diabetic kidney disease (DKD) or diabetic nephropathy. DKD is a serious complication as it interferes with the kidneys’ function to remove toxic wastes and excess water.

Before you can fully learn the ways on how to protect the kidneys from diabetes, you must first be aware of its signs and symptoms. They are as follows:

  • Fatigue
  • Presence of protein in the urine
  • Uncontrolled blood pressure
  • Persistent itching
  • Increased need to pass urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in hands, feet, ankles, and eyes

Important note: In its early stages, DKD may present no signs and symptoms. If you experience any of the signs and symptoms enumerated above, consult your doctor as it may mean that your diabetic nephropathy is already in its late stages.

How to Protect Your Kidneys from Diabetes

Now that you know how diabetes affects your body’s filtering system, it’s time to take some measures to protect your kidneys.

Eliminate Some of the Modifiable Risk Factors

Some people with diabetes are more at risk of getting DKD than the others. Generally, your risk heightens if you have diabetes and you:

  • Smoke
  • Don’t follow the diet plan assigned to you by your doctor
  • Have a diet high in salt
  • Have a very low activity level (sedentary)
  • Are overweight or obese

If you’ll notice, several of the factors listed above are “modifiable.” This means that you can do something about them. For instance, you can quit smoking, follow a healthier diet plan, and start moving to maintain a healthier BMI (weight).

Eliminating these modifiable risk factors is one of the ways to protect your kidneys from diabetes.

Keep Your Blood Sugar at Healthy Levels

Since uncontrolled sugar level is a major aspect in the development of diabetic nephropathy, monitoring and controlling it is a great way to protect your kidneys from diabetes.

You can manage your blood-sugar level through diet, exercise, medications, and of course, frequent blood checks. Generally, you want to keep your glucose level between 80 mg/dl to 130 mg/dl before meals and below 180 mg/dl about 2 hours after eating.

Handling High Blood Sugar Levels

Monitor and Control Your Blood Pressure

Should you be suffering from high blood pressure, don’t forget to talk to your doctor about the proper ways of controlling it. They may prescribe you with medications, but in some cases, lifestyle and dietary changes may suffice.

how to protect your kidneys from diabetes

Be Mindful of Your Cholesterol Level

Having unhealthy levels of cholesterol might make you more at risk of developing DKD. Additionally, if you already have diabetic nephropathy, uncontrolled cholesterol might make it worse.

Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol levels and how you should manage them.

Key Takeaways

There are many ways by which diabetes affects the kidneys. It can be through the damaged blood vessels, nerves, or as a result of urinary tract infections. To protect your kidneys from diabetes, try to modify some risk factors, and control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Learn more about Diabetes here.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Feb 14
Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, M.D.