Kidney Disease Overview

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), your kidneys are fist-sized organs located in the middle of your back, one on each side of your spine. They have a bean-like shape (think “kidney” beans) and play an important role in your overall health. Most people know that kidneys play a role in filtering the blood to remove waste and make urine, but kidneys also help control your blood pressure and produce hormones that help make red blood cells and aid in keeping your bones strong and healthy.

NIDDK says that usually, chronic kidney disease happens slowly over time, often because of diabetes or high blood pressure. People who have sudden changes in how their kidneys function have what’s called acute kidney injury.  If your kidneys are damaged, they can’t filter your blood like they normally do, which can cause wastes to accumulate in your body and can also cause other harmful health problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 10% (20 million) of U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease, but because the early stage of the disease has no signs or symptoms, most people don’t know they have it until it causes related health problems.

Read this article for an overview of kidney disease and potential Medicare coverage of kidney disease education and treatment.

What causes kidney disease?

As mentioned above, NIDDK reports that kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are unable to function properly, leading to kidney damage that can worsen over time. Kidney disease can be acute, which happens in the case of a sudden injury or drug toxicity. However, for most people at risk, chronic kidney disease develops slowly over time, usually due to high blood pressure or diabetes.

What are the risk factors for kidney disease?

According to NIDDK, the main risk factors of chronic kidney disease include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease
  • Family history of kidney disease

NDDK says that kidney disease affects people of all races and ages. African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics can be at high risk for kidney failure, mostly because of higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease?

According to NIHSeniorHealth.gov, kidney disease is often said to be a “silent” condition, because in its early stages, kidney disease can cause few or no symptoms—so you must not wait for symptoms to arise. Instead, if you are at risk for developing kidney disease, please talk to your doctor about getting tested.

How is kidney disease diagnosed?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), testing is the only way for your doctor to know for sure if you have kidney disease. If you have risk factors for kidney disease, your doctor may perform these tests to screen you for the disease, since symptoms may not develop until it reaches an advanced stage. The two tests that look for kidney disease are:

  • Blood Test. Your doctor will check your GFR, or glomerular filtration rate, which shows how well your kidneys are filtering waste.
  • Urine Test. Your doctor will look for the protein albumin in your urine, which is a sign that your kidneys are damaged.

According to NIDDK, it’s also important to have your blood pressure checked and to keep it at or below the target you set with your health-care provider. If you have diabetes, you should get checked for kidney disease every year. If you have other risk factors like heart disease or a family history of kidney failure, please visit your doctor and talk about how often you should be tested for kidney disease. Please see “Keep Your Kidneys Healthy” from NIDDK for more information on the steps you can take for kidney disease prevention.

What is the treatment for early kidney disease?

According to NIHSeniorHealth.gov, there are different types of treatment that are related to kidney disease. Some treatments will be used in the early stages of kidney disease for protection purposes; these medications and lifestyle changes help to maintain the existing kidney function you have and prevent or delay the failure of your kidneys. Here’s a list of some of these treatments:

  • Choosing heart-healthy foods and exercising regularly to help prevent the diseases that cause further damage to the kidneys
  • Controlling any existing conditions of diabetes and/or high blood pressure that you may have
  • Making dietary changes like eating less protein
  • Taking prescription medications to protect your kidneys or delay kidney failure

Note: Please consult your doctor before doing any of these.

NIHSeniorHealth.gov says the most important step for you to treat kidney disease is to control your blood pressure.

What is the treatment for advanced kidney disease (kidney failure)?

According to NIHSeniorHealth.gov, kidney damage can progress over time and may lead to kidney failure. When that happens, the kidneys function with less than 15% of their normal function, and you may have symptoms from the buildup of waste products and extra water. This state is known as end-stage renal disease, or ESRD, and usually the only options for treatment are dialysis or a kidney transplant.

  • Dialysis is a treatment that helps to take waste products and extra fluid outside of your body.
  • Kidney transplants involve removing a diseased kidney and replacing it with a healthy one from a donor.

Does Medicare cover kidney disease treatment or education?

If you are enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) and you have chronic kidney disease, medically-necessary doctor visits and tests are covered under Medicare Part B (medical insurance). If you have stage IV chronic kidney disease, Medicare Part B will cover up to six sessions of kidney disease education to help you prevent complications and potentially delay the need for kidney transplant or dialysis. Please see Medicare.gov for more details. Also, Part B covers medical nutrition therapy if you have kidney disease or have had a kidney transplant in the last three years.

If you need dialysis, your Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) benefits cover allowable charges for dialysis received as an inpatient in a Medicare-approved hospital. Medicare Part B covers routine maintenance dialysis from a Medicare-certified dialysis facility. Part B also covers training if you’re qualified for self-dialysis, along with self-dialysis support services, equipment, and supplies.

If you have been diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, and your kidneys have permanently stopped functioning so that you need routine dialysis or a kidney transplant, you may qualify for Medicare benefits before your 65th birthday.

If you have been diagnosed with kidney disease, you may have concerns about managing your out-of-pocket expenses. You may want to look into a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan to help pay for Original Medicare’s out-of-pocket costs. Different Medigap plans pay for different amounts of those costs, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

Do you have questions about Medicare plan options? I’m happy to discuss them with you. You can also schedule a phone call or request information to read in an email by clicking the appropriate link below. To view some plans in your area you may qualify for, click the Compare Plans button. You can find out more about me by clicking the “View profile” button below.

 

For more information about kidney disease: 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), “Kidney Disease Basics,” last modified March 1, 2012.

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