What is Diabetic Nephropathy?

Diabetic nephropathy is a condition that develops when the nephrons in the body have been damaged by excess amounts of glucose in the blood. This disease is found in some, but not all, people with chronic or age-onset diabetes. Once diabetic nephropathy is present, the condition will continue to worsen over time, especially in terms of kidney problems.

Along with problems with blood glucose, a couple of other health issues can also increase the chances of developing diabetic nephropathy. When the individual suffering with Type 1 or 2 diabetes also has high levels of bad cholesterol or high blood pressure, the opportunity for nephritis to develop is significantly increased. As an inflammation of the kidney, nephritis paves the way for a number of other types of kidney damage, and can work in tandem with other health issues to lead to kidney failure.

One of the first signs of the development of diabetic nephropathy is a change in the urine. As the kidneys begin to malfunction, they allow larger amounts of plasma protein into the urine. Tests to measure the amount of protein in the urine can help alert healthcare professionals in advance of the impending health issue, since the release of more protein through the urine may appear up to ten years before any other symptoms are manifested.

In later stages, there are several symptoms associated with diabetic nephropathy. The individual may begin to experience swelling around the eyes in the early part of the day. Over time, the swelling may lead to the legs as well. Fluid retention may take place, giving the individual a bloated appearance. At the same time, a general feeling of fatigue is often present, along with headaches, and a sense of nausea that may lead to regurgitation and dry heaving.

When detected in the early stages, many patients respond to the use of ACE inhibitor medications. While the ACE inhibitors will not stop or reverse the progress of diabetic nephropathy, they do tend to slow the progression significantly in some people. This can result in more years that are relatively symptom free. Angiotensin Receptor Blockers or ARBs have also proven helpful in slowing the rate of progression for some individuals.

Along with medication, making changes in diet may also help to slow the progression of diabetic nephropathy. This means adjusting the diet so that the carbohydrate intake is limited, making it easier to manage blood glucose levels. If high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels are also present, changes in diet may also prove helpful in minimizing these risk factors.

As the condition progresses and the kidneys begin to fail, the patient is often placed on dialysis. Essentially, the dialysis performs the same function that a healthy kidney would perform, helping to clear waste from the bloodstream. Depending on the general health of the individual, a kidney transplant may be possible. However, there is not currently any known way to reverse the damage done and restore healthy function to the affected kidneys.


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