Urgent need to tackle the scourge of kidney disease

The National Kidney Foundation of South Africa states that no less than 10 000 South Africans die of kidney failure and kidney disease every year

Wednesday, March 6 2013

Kidney disease is a major killer in South Africa. However, the majority of people are still ignorant of the seriousness of kidney disease, what causes it and how to reduce the risk of developing it. This is a tragedy because there is much that can be done to prevent and effectively treat kidney disease if it is detected early.

This is the view of Robert Souter, chief executive officer of National Renal Care (NRC), the largest private dialysis provider in South Africa and a joint venture between Netcare and Adcock Ingram Critical Care.

Karlien van Jaarsveld, national Healthy Start manager at NRC, who was talking ahead of World Kidney Day on 14 March 2013 concurs. “The National Kidney Foundation of South Africa states that no less than 10 000 South Africans die of kidney failure and kidney disease every year,” notes Van Jaarsveld. “This is almost comparable to the annual number of road-related fatalities in our country. Kidney disease is a healthcare challenge that needs to be addressed and we can all play our part by taking responsibility for our own health.”

Dr June Fabian, a nephrologist at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, says: “The kidneys are vital to the functioning of our bodies as they act as filters eliminating dangerous toxins. Kidneys also maintain the body's balance of various salts such as sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphate as well as acid. Without this filtering and balancing process the body would get clogged with toxins and slowly become poisoned. If our kidneys become severely damaged, they are less effective in filtering the toxins. This is when the blood must be artificially filtered through a dialysis machine.”

Dr Fabian points out kidney disease is not curable. However, if it is detected early its progress can be slowed considerably and the need for dialysis greatly delayed. Those who are at high risk of developing the disease should therefore visit their doctor once a year to have their kidney health assessed. For individuals diagnosed as having impaired kidney function, a healthcare practitioner will seek to determine the cause of the disease and treat the underlying condition. He or she likely to recommend dietary and lifestyle changes as these can play an important role in inhibiting the progress of the disease.

Who exactly is at risk of developing kidney disease? According to Dr Peter Hsu, a nephrologist at Netcare Milpark Hospital, a number of factors may cause damage to the kidneys and lead to kidney failure. These include the following:

  • Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Abuse of certain drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used for patients with arthritis and bone problems as well as abuse of certain pain medication
  • Trauma caused by an accident or toxins
  • Certain infections
  • Recurrent kidney stones and bladder infections
  • Some cancers and cysts

The most common cause of kidney disease in South Africa is high blood pressure, which is responsible for between 60 and 65 percent of all cases, according to the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa.

“When people suffer from high blood pressure it puts more strain on blood vessels throughout the body, including the kidneys. If hypertension is not treated, the kidneys will become damaged over time and be unable to filter waste from the blood or carry out its other functions. By maintaining a healthy blood pressure, you do not only reduce your risk of kidney damage, but also your chances of a heart attack or stroke. Regular check-ups by your healthcare practitioner will help you to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and keep any damage to your kidneys to a minimum,” explains Dr Hsu.

Van Jaarsveld says many patients feel overwhelmed when they learn they have kidney disease and are bombarded by such terms as glycaemic control, anaemia management and dialysis. They generally do not have much of an idea what all of this involves. However, individuals with kidney disease will be comforted to know they are not alone, as support is available every step of the way through the Healthy Start programme.

Van Jaarsveld notes that the programme is unique to NRC and that its primary function is to educate patients with early stage kidney disease. “The aim of the programme is to slow down the progression of kidney disease to prevent complete kidney failure. We also assist patients who approach us at the stage where they are in need of dialysis, with a range of options suitable for their needs,” she explains.

Over the years, the Healthy Start programme has proved how valuable it is in helping to prevent renal failure. “Some of our patients have been on the programme for eight years without the disease progressing to the stage where they have to undergo dialysis. Kidney disease progresses very slowly. The earlier a patient is diagnosed and implements lifestyle changes recommended by the Healthy Start programme, the better their chances of preventing end stage kidney failure.”

Van Jaarsveld says there are a number of practical ways kidney health can be maintained. She shares the following advice:

  • Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of kidney disease
  • Visit your doctor regularly
  • Consult your doctor if you suspect that you may have kidney problems
  • Follow your healthcare practitioner’s medical and dietary advice
  • Follow your doctor's orders to control high blood pressure if relevant and blood glucose if you are diabetic
  • Take all medication prescribed by your doctor
  • Do not take over the counter medication and supplements without the approval of your doctor

According to Souter, for those diagnosed with kidney disease dialysis offers an essential lifeline to thousands of people living with kidney failure. The technology is used to keep the patient alive and assist in maintaining quality of life. He advises those with compromised kidney function to choose a dialysis provider upon their doctor’s recommendation.

To find out about free kidney function screening offered by National Renal Care in support of World Kidney Day, contact Aarthi Naidoo, National Healthy Start administrator at Netcare Jakaranda Hospital on tel.
012 421 6788/6735.

Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of National Renal Care
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Monique Vanek
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
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