At least one in three people with lupus develop kidney disease. March is National Kidney Month so I wanted to take the opportunity to stress the importance of monitoring and taking care of your kidneys.
Check on Your Kidneys
Kidney disease can be painless, often without any symptoms you can see or feel. So it is very important that your rheumatologist check your kidneys during each visit1 :
- By examining a sample of your urine for protein and blood cells
- By doing blood work to check for lupus activity, and this includes checking your kidney function
- By monitoring blood pressure since high blood pressure can also be a sign of kidney inflammation
If your rheumatologist finds that there is a problem with either of your kidneys, you should be referred to a nephrologist -- a kidney specialist.
If you are not sure whether or not your rheumatologist is doing these tests at each visit, please ask. If you have questions about how lupus affects the kidneys, read more here. You can also watch our two part video on lupus and the kidneys. Here is part 1 and part 2.
For now, let’s focus on how to take good care of your kidneys with or without kidney disease.
Taking Care of Your Kidneys
If you have healthy kidneys, you want to do your best to keep them that way. This means you should:
- Take medications as prescribed. This will help you control lupus or any other illnesses you are managing.
- Keep up with your medical visits. Make sure your rheumatologist regularly checks your kidney function. The earlier you catch new developments in kidney disease, the better.
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet. According to the National Kidney Foundation2, a healthy diet includes:
- Avoiding soda
- Eating less sugar
- Reducing sodium
- Staying away from processed foods, like deli meats, cookies, crackers, potato chips
- Limiting intake of red meat
- Read more here on how to fill your plate with healthy foods
- Be sure to be screened for diabetes. Diabetes3 can also cause kidney disease.
- Exercise. Staying fit keeps your heart healthy and helps reduce your chances of developing kidney disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. It is also a great way to manage stress.
Living with Lupus Nephritis
While it is not a separate type of lupus, kidney disease in people with lupus has its own name -- lupus nephritis. If you have lupus nephritis, you should follow all of the suggestions above. According to the Hospital for Special Surgery4 , you should also do the following:
- Be mindful of protein intake. This is because lupus nephritis causes extra protein to be dumped into the kidneys. If you are going to eat proteins, try to stick with lean proteins like fish, chicken, and egg whites.
- Lower potassium intake. Kidney disease can cause potassium levels to rise. Apples, grapes, berries, lettuce, and cucumbers are examples of foods low in potassium. Here is a more complete list of foods high and low in potassium.
Wellness for the Whole Body
These recommendations are very similar to ones I shared for5 American Heart Month. They are also very similar to my past column about wellness6 . Have you noticed the pattern yet? Don’t smoke. Eat a healthy diet. Exercise. Take medications as prescribed. Keep your medical appointments.
Because lupus affects the body in many ways, there are plenty of things that you cannot control. And feeling out of control is a terrible feeling. If you could, you would choose not to have lupus at all. But taking care of your health offers you many opportunities to have some control over your body, and your life.