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Whittington Health NHSUCL

Kidneys

Overview

Diagram of kidney in vertical cross-section.

Key fact:
Kidney problems caught early via your regular urine/blood checks - at least once a year - can be resolved or improved with good diabetes care. Maintaining healthy blood pressure can really help prevent kidney damage.

The kidneys are extremely powerful organs that allow you to continuously filter your blood to remove waste products. They also play an important role in helping you regulate your blood pressure.

Why do kidney problems happen in diabetes?


This may be due to:

  • persistently high blood glucose levels damaging small vessels and nerves in the kidneys
  • high blood pressure, which can be associated with diabetes
  • a combination of the above.

What are the main problems?

If the kidneys are not working to full capacity:

  • they tend to filter the blood less effectively
  • waste products can build up in the blood, causing tiredness and nausea
  • proteins may leak out of the blood into the kidneys, taking water with them and making people want to pass urine often
  • the kidneys can react by producing certain substances that can often lead to high blood pressure.

In the early stages, you will not notice any symptoms to suggest a problem. Fortunately, a simple urine test can show these early changes.

Will I experience problems with my kidneys?

Early kidney damage is unlikely to make you feel any different.
  • The only way to pick it up initially is to check your urine and have a blood test at least once a year.
  • Kidney problems are common in diabetes. Five years after diagnosis, about 14 in 100 people have early kidney changes (microalbuminuria).

Early changes can resolve or improve with good diabetes care. Maintaining a good blood pressure reduces the risk of developing a kidney problem, and even when problems occur, most people with diabetes do not go on to have kidney failure or to need dialysis. Detecting early changes in kidney function gives health professionals the opportunity to act in ways that can help to protect the kidneys from further damage.

Blood pressure

Aim for a blood pressure of less than 130/80.

See also above: Prevention | Checks & tests | Complications | Treatment | Links