Thursday, April 14, 2011

Screenings for kidney disease save Alaskan lives

Although this article is about Alaska the overview and screening tips for kidney disease are applicable everywhere and something we should all be aware of. As of April 8, 2011, of the 120,046 people waiting for an organ transplant in the United States, 94,116 are waiting for a kidney transplant.

The National Kidney Foundation notes that those with CKD are 16 to 40 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease before developing kidney failure.

By Robin Bassett The Bristol Bay Times

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is known as a silent killer; it's painless and progresses slowly into kidney failure. But kidney disease's impact on Americans and Alaskans is far from quiet as the CKD count quickly reaches epidemic proportions.

More than 26 million adult Americans have CKD and millions more are at risk for CKD but completely unaware of it. According to United States Renal Data System, more than 600 Alaskans have CKD. The National Kidney Foundation notes that those with CKD are 16 to 40 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease before developing kidney failure.

Kidney failure can be treated with replacement therapy called dialysis. Another option is kidney transplant; more than 87,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney organ to become available. Living in Alaska is particularly difficult for those with CKD and kidney failure because the state has only six nephrologists (physicians trained as internists with additional training in kidney disease). All are located in Anchorage, and even though many make monthly visits to Fairbanks, Juneau and Kenai, the wait to see a nephrologist is often longer than three months.

That's why kidney screenings are critical to helping Alaskans avoid CKD.

Alaskans can receive free kidney screenings thanks to the National Kidney Foundation, which sponsors the Kidney Early Evaluation Program (KEEP). These screenings are conducted around Alaska several times annually; the last screenings evaluated more than 200 Alaskans.

At KEEP screenings, blood and urine tests, as well as blood pressure readings, are measured, and each participant meets with a clinician to discuss preliminary results. Further results are mailed to participants' homes and to their primary care providers for further work-up and referrals.

The importance of healthy, hardworking kidneys can't be overstated. Kidneys filter approximately 200 liters of blood each day, removing two liters of toxins, wastes and water. Kidneys also: regulate the body's water balance and blood pressure; support healthy bone and tissues by producing the active form of vitamin D; release a hormone that signals the bone marrow to manufacture red blood cells; keep the blood's acid levels regulated; keep minerals in balance; and retrieve necessary nutrients so that the body can reabsorb them.

Kidneys are often victims of other disease processes within the body. Diabetes is the No. 1 cause of kidney failure, with hypertension second. Kidney function screenings should be an annual event for anyone with diabetes, hypertension or with immediate family members with these conditions or histories of kidney disease or dialysis.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reports that 66 percent of adult Alaskans are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese increases the risk for diabetes, hypertension and the development of CKD.

CKD's silent and progressive nature can suddenly strike people who aren't screened: they can suffer side effects of kidney disease or even face the decision of dialysis or replacing failed kidneys with little time for prevention or preparation.

March was National Kidney Month. Use the recent landmark as motivation to increase your kidney awareness and care. The National Kidney Foundation is an important resource for help. It's dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract disease, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation. Visit its website at

Dates for upcoming free KEEP screenings:

  • 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at Shiloh Baptist Church, Anchorage
  • 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at JP Jones Development Center, Fairbanks
  • Learn more about free kidney screenings around Alaska by contacting Kristie Lemmon at 877-889-6318 or email

  • Get screened annually to find out if you already have chronic kidney disease.
  • Protect your kidneys by keeping blood sugars controlled, keeping your blood pressure below 130/80, and keeping your cholesterol down.
  • Manage your weight and weight loss. Studies show that overweight or obese people are at higher risk for diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. Obesity is also associated with a specific type of kidney disease called focal glomerulosclerosis (scarring in specific areas of the kidneys that lead to kidney failure).
  • Pay attention to kidney disease warning signs: feeling tired and fatigued; difficulty concentrating; difficulty eating or sleeping; muscle cramps, especially at night; swelling in feet ankles or face, especially around the eyes; itchy and dry skin; and urge to urinate more frequently, especially at night.
  • For more information on kidney awareness, visit the National Kidney Foundation website at

Robin Bassett ANP is a CDR in the USPHS detailed to Alaska Native Medical Center Internal Medicine providing nephrology services. She can be reached at 907-729-1550 or by email at

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