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Take care of your kidneys


By John Kokales, MD

When I was in practice, I used to ask my patients, “How are all your parts doing?” I said this to introduce the idea that the whole (you) is the sum of all your parts. As such, a problem with one “part” can affect the whole in many ways.

Today’s part of interest is your kidneys. The kidneys’ job is more than just making urine. They control your blood pressure, maintain your fluid and chemical balance, protect your heart, remove toxins from your body, and help regulate many different drug levels prescribed to treat other conditions you may have. So, if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), you can see how impaired kidney function can affect your body’s ability to perform many other critical functions.

I want to make sure you know that you can work with both your PCP and UPMC Health Plan to manage the causes and consequences of CKD. CKD is usually the result of diabetes or high blood pressure. It is also a disease of aging, as 70 percent of CKD occurs in people who are over age 65. The consequences of kidney failure are dialysis, transplant, or death.

There are things you can do to take care of your kidneys and help prevent or delay CKD:

  1. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, ask your doctor if you have CKD and if so, find out what stage you are in. This is easily determined by routine blood tests.
  2. If you are in stage 3B or stage 4, you should at least have a consultation with a kidney specialist.
  3. Ask your doctor if you have protein in your urine. If you do, are you taking medication for it? Treating this is the single most effective way to delay or prevent kidney failure and dialysis. Not treating it guarantees a more rapid progression to kidney failure and dialysis.
  4. Working with your doctor to get your diabetes and blood pressure under control is critical. If you smoke, STOP. Smoking causes more rapid progression of CKD to kidney failure. UPMC Health Plan has programs to help you do this.
  5. If you are in stage 4, learn about your options for dialysis so you can avoid emergency hospitalization.

There are many more things you need to know. UPMC Health Plan has a CKD program to help you. Have your PCP or kidney doctor write a “prescription for wellness” to refer you to our CKD health coach, then call 1-866-778-6073 and enroll.

Remember, the more you learn about any health problem that is affecting one of your parts, the better you can work with your doctor to prevent or delay the consequence of that part failing. Your PCP is the best person to help you stay healthy and keep all your parts working well together!

This is the first in what will be a series of articles written by Dr. Kokales, the UPMC Health Plan Sr. Medical Director for Medicare, to keep you informed about your health and how various diseases, lifestyles and treatments can affect it.

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