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Helping Patients Track their “Kidney Number” Could Save Lives

It’s a silent epidemic that affects millions of Americans. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a life-threatening illness that can often be treated successfully if found early, and can be detected at an early stage using simple, inexpensive blood and urine tests. According to DNA physicians, tracking your “kidney number” is just as important as controlling cholesterol.

As part of its 2010 World Kidney Day awareness program, the physicians of Dallas Nephrology Associates (DNA) urge everyone to know and track their “kidney number.”

Ruben L. Velez, M.D., F.A.C.P., president and CEO of DNA, in Dallas, TX, one of the largest groups of practicing kidney specialists in the U.S., states that, “A staggering 26 million Americans are living with chronic kidney disease, and millions more could be at risk…. But, because early CKD typically produces minimal symptoms, many people are unaware they are ill. As a result, we are seeing too many patients coming in too late, when there is not much we can do except offering dialysis or transplantation.” 

The “kidney number” is a measure of kidney function and is based on the amount of a substance called creatinine in the blood. In addition, detecting the presence of a protein called albumin in the urine identifies patients with CKD. 

Those at high risk include individuals with diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure) or a family history of diabetes, hypertension or CKD. African Americans and Hispanics are also at higher risk. Obesity has also been associated with a higher risk of developing kidney disease.

“The earlier kidney disease is found, the more options the patient has,” says Dr. Velez. “We can limit some of the complications with medications or dietary changes. And because kidney disease is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, treating CKD early can potentially decrease cardiac complications.”

Affording a routine screening brings about another troubling issue — especially in Texas.  DNA physician Dr. Roberto Collazo serves on the Chronic Kidney Disease Task Force.  Created by the Texas Legislature in 2007, this task force studies CKD in Texas and recommends educational programs for health care professionals and the public. The task force’s findings indicate that Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured individuals in the United States. As a result, the task force indicates that free or reduced cost public screening programs can prevent the high cost of CKD treatment if symptoms and signs are detected early. A little cost now can prevent a hefty medical bill in the future. 

One such free early detection program is the Kidney Early Evaluation Program (KEEP) by the National Kidney Foundation. Started in 2000, more than 100,000 people who are at risk for CKD received no-cost screenings. Studies indicate that 27 percent of those tested through KEEP have CKD. Patients who are unsure if they are at risk should visit with their primary care physician or contact a specialist in nephrology. 

“Of course, at Dallas Nephrology Associates, one of our most important jobs is to help patients avoid dialysis,” Dr. Velez says. “So ask your doctor the right questions. Ask your doctor to check your kidney number.”

Dallas Nephrology Associates (DNA)