What are the Effects of Diabetes on the Kidneys?

Diabetes is a known cause of kidney disease. Though the two conditions are entirely separate, the effects of diabetes on the kidneys are well-documented. Not everyone who has diabetes develops kidney disease and not all cases of kidney disease are caused by diabetes; however, according to the United States Renal Data System, approximately 44% of new cases are found to be caused by diabetes. Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot regulate blood glucose levels on its own. When blood sugar levels fluctuate in and out of normal range, it causes the kidneys to be overworked and may cause them to eventually fail.

The basic function of the kidneys is to filter out waste. The waste is filtered through the smallest of blood vessels located throughout the kidneys and excreted as urine. The useful proteins are redistributed into the blood. The effects of diabetes on the kidneys become drastic when blood glucose levels go too high and the kidneys are forced to work extra hard, filtering too much blood. This eventually causes the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys to “leak,” resulting in ineffective filtering. Over time, this can eventually lead to kidney failure.

Kidney failure, which is also known as end stage renal disease (ESRD) is the most serious of the effects of diabetes on the kidneys. It results in waste buildup in the blood and body and requires manual filtration of the blood by a process called dialysis. Dialysis or kidney transplant is the only treatment for ESRD.

Detecting diabetes early is essential to controlling the disease and to extend the life of the kidneys. Typical signs of diabetes are insatiable thirst and excessive urination. When a person has diabetes, they must monitor and learn to regulate blood glucose levels through diet, medication, or both. By working to keep blood sugar levels within normal range, the effects of diabetes on the kidneys can be reduced. Diabetes patients typically have their urine, along with blood, tested regularly to keep an eye on both blood sugar levels and kidney function.

Several factors can lead to diabetes, including genetics, high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, and pregnancy. There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is usually diagnosed during childhood or early adulthood. Type 2 diabetes, formerly referred to as adult-onset diabetes, is developed later in life, while gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes typically disappears after the woman gives birth, but also increases the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later.

People who have symptoms or risk factors for diabetes should talk to their doctor about the risks of developing diabetes and ways to prevent it. Since the effects of diabetes on the kidneys can be so harmful, it is important to be aware of this condition and make every attempt to prevent or control it.


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