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Pulse Health Kidney Failure - What You Need To Know

It was with great sadness that Africa woke up to the news that one of her accomplished actors Muna Obiekwe had passed away after a long battle with chronic kidney disease. At the prime of his career, many would not have expected this unfortunate news. This disease though not so popular is claiming the lives of many all across the world, especially in Africa where there is low awareness.

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Kidney failure can be explained in colloquial terms as any disease condition affecting the kidneys that impair their normal day-to-day functions. The kidneys are mainly responsible for filtering blood and removing harmful waste products from it. These substances notable among them being urea, are removed in the urine. Thus when the kidneys fail, these substances that should in normal circumstances be removed from the body tend to accumulate in the body and cause the symptoms of the disease.

There are two main forms of kidney failure. These are acute kidney injury, which is often reversible with adequate treatment, and chronic kidney disease, which is often not reversible. In both cases, there is usually an underlying cause.

Acute kidney injury (AKI) usually occurs when the blood supply to the kidneys is suddenly interrupted or when the kidneys become overloaded with toxins. Causes include accidents, injuries, or complications from surgeries in which the kidneys are deprived of normal blood flow for extended periods of time. Dehydration which could result from diarrhoea or vomiting is another cause of AKI. Drug overdoses may also cause the onset of acute kidney injury.  People suffering from AKI require supportive treatment until their kidneys recover function, but should be monitored due to the risk of getting chronic kidney disease in the future.

Kidney failure of the chronic type is commonly caused by uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes. There are some inherited cases although these are not as common. Other causes include infections that affect the kidneys such as HIV/AIDS, as well as drug overdose and toxins.

High levels of urea in the blood cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and confusion. Due to the build up of excess fluids, patients tend to have swelling of their legs, ankles, feet, face or hands. Patients may also experience shortness of breath as a result of extra fluid in the lungs. Kidney failure also leads to anaemia which presents with tiredness, dizziness and memory problems.

It is not all bad news. Kidney failure is preventable. The following tips will help protect your kidneys:

  • Be aware of your family medical history. If close blood relatives have had kidney disease or other chronic diseases such as hypertension or diabetes, you may be 'at risk' too. 
  • If you are at 'increased risk' of developing kidney disease, take the initiative and see your doctor for a full kidney and general check up.
  • If you do not know your blood pressure and/or blood sugar levels, get them checked. High blood pressure and high blood sugar can be well controlled and this will help reduce the risk of getting kidney failure.
  • Eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables. 
  • Maintain healthy weight - being overweight increases your risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure which are major risk factors for kidney disease. 
  • Stop smoking if you smoke. Smokers are 3 times more likely to have reduced kidney function, and 4 to 5 times greater risk of heart attack and stroke! 
  • Make physical activity a regular habit . Do 30 minutes of regular moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or jogging on at least 5 days in a week.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation - limit alcohol to 2 standard drinks per day for men, 1 per day for women. 
  • Take medications as prescribed by your doctor

Prevention they say is better than cure. Dialysis, a procedure where a machine is used to filter the blood thereby performing the function of the kidney is the main way in which kidney failure is managed. Though effective, it is very expensive, such that even the affluent in society struggle to afford the entire course of treatment. Don't wait till you find yourself in such a situation. Your health is in your own hands. Take control of it!

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