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Kidney Disease in African Americans

Kidney disease is a serious problem in African Americans, especially those who:

  • have diabetes.
  • have high blood pressure – also called “hypertension”
  • are overweight.

In addition, many African Americans have inherited a gene that makes them more likely to develop kidney failure.  Although kidney failure sometimes runs in a family, anyone can have kidney problems, especially if they have one or more of the three conditions listed above.

What are the signs of kidney disease?

The most dangerous thing about kidney disease is that it often causes no signs or symptoms at all until it reaches a very late stage.  A person can have high blood pressure or diabetes for many years and never know it until something happens, such as:

  • a stroke
  • a heart attack
  • kidney failure.

The sad thing about a “silent” disease like hypertension is that it can easily be treated so that bad results like kidney failure do not happen.

Some of the early signs of kidney disease and the conditions that cause it are:

  • high blood pressure detected at a work, school, or sports physical, or a life insurance screening exam
  • frequent headaches, which may be caused by high blood pressure
  • increased thirst and frequent urination, which may be a sign of diabetes
  • foamy urine, which may be a sign that the kidneys are leaking protein.  If kidney damage is suspected, a simple urine test can detect whether the urine contains an abnormal amount of protein
  • having to get up more than once at night to go to the bathroom
  • swelling of your feet or legs
  • abnormal blood tests – The job of the kidneys is to excrete waste products.  In kidney disease, the levels of these harmful products build up in the body and cause illness.  One of the first signs of kidney failure is a higher-than-normal level of waste products in the blood, detected by a simple screening blood test

What can you do to prevent or reduce your risk of kidney disease?

If you are diabetic:

It is very important to control your blood sugars by following a strict diabetic diet and by taking meds or insulin to keep your blood sugar in a good range.

If you have high blood pressure:

It is important to follow a low-salt diet.  This means avoiding salty foods like:

  • ham
  • bacon
  • chips
  • salty snacks
  • canned foods such as soups.

It also means not adding salt to your food at the table.

It is also very important to take your blood pressure meds regularly, at the same time each day. Be careful not to skip doses or to run out of meds.

If you are overweight:

you should try to lose weight both by trying to get more exercise and by reducing the amount that you eat, especially fattening foods such as:

  • sweets
  • snacks
  • fried foods
  • fast food.

You do not have to go to a gym to exercise! You can do things like walking or running in your neighborhood and taking stairs instead of the elevator.

If you smoke:

you should stop right away! In addition to causing lung cancer and other types of cancer, smoking increases your risk of:

  • heart disease
  • lung disease
  • kidney disease.

Smoking not only damages your lungs, but also helps to cause hardening of the arteries – often called “atherosclerosis”. This in turn can lead to:

  • high blood pressure
  • strokes
  • heart attacks
  • kidney failure.

If you have a family history of kidney disease:

Be aware that your risk of developing kidney disease is much higher than average if you have anyone in your family who:

  • has had kidney problems
  • is on dialysis
  • or has had a kidney transplant.

So, it is very important for you to have regular checkups to detect signs of high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, or kidney disease before they reach a dangerous stage.


For more information:

Go to the Kidney Diseases health topic.