Sometimes it seems like each birthday brings a new set of ailments or pains. Our knees may ache a little more than they used to, or we might squint a little harder when reading the score of Saturday’s game. Those are just a normal sign of aging. However, it is not as easy to see what effects aging may be having on other parts of our body. We know to be concerned with the function of our heart and lungs, but few stop to wonder how their kidneys are functioning.
Kidneys play a very big part in your day to day life. Their hard work filtering your blood is often overlooked. Unfortunately, the same goes for their gradual decline.
“Over time, your kidney, or renal function, will decline. That is an inevitable part of aging,” says White-Wilson Medical Center Nephrologist Dr. Brad Arbogast. “What we have to watch is their rate of decline. The decline can go undetected until after major damage is done. This can result in kidney disease and a major change in quality of life.”
In addition to regular old wear and tear, there are many risk factors that can contribute to declining kidney function. These include your age and sex – males and African American and Latino populations are at far greater risk for kidney disease. Other influencers include high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and even long-term medication use.
So how do you know if your kidney function is declining?
“This is something that your primary care physician should work with you to monitor,” advises Dr. Arbogast. “Blood and urine tests will tell us what we need to know. These tests measure your estimated glomerular filtration rate or GFR. This is a telltale sign of just how well your kidneys are doing their job.”
Measuring a person’s GFR and then tracking changes is the best way to determine how well the kidneys are filtering and alert your physician to possible decline or disease. When a person’s GFR indicates decline, that is where a kidney specialist, also known as a nephrologist, comes in.
“Kidney disease is a major issue and without treatment can even lead to death,” warns Dr. Arbogast. “The earlier we are alerted to a decline the more options you have. Sometimes that means just watching more closely and other times it means medication or treatment. It really depends on the individual and their unique situation, and a nephrologist is specially trained to help you navigate your choices and maintain your quality of life.”
Advances in treatment options mean that patients who are diagnosed with kidney disease have more options than ever before. Medications can help declining kidneys and dialysis can even do the work for your kidneys. Today’s treatment options allow for more flexibility and greater outcomes than ever before. However, early intervention is key.
Dr. Arbogast recommends that everyone, no matter their age, talk with their physician about their kidney function.
“Every day, I see patients who could have prevented or stopped damage to their kidneys but waited too late,” says Dr. Arbogast. “Be your biggest advocate, see your primary care physician regularly and talk with him or her about your test results and your concerns.”