World Kidney Day time for check

World Kidney Day is a time to consider having a health check, writes Max Reid.

Every day we are encouraged to celebrate, recognise or observe some cause or another from the sublime to the ridiculous, as they say. Today, for example, is International Women's Day.

It is also (apparently) World Proofreading Day, World Nametag Day and World Peanut Cluster Day.

Each of which will hold differing degrees of relevance to the New Zealand populace.

Today, the second Thursday in March, is a day that should be of major relevance to each and every one of us. Indeed, it would be fair to say that your life could very well depend on it.

Because today is also World Kidney Day, a day to give some serious thought to the health and wellbeing of those two little filters that literally keep our bodily engine running.

Worldwide it is estimated that one in 10 people have chronic kidney disease. That equates to more than 400,000 New Zealanders.

Much publicity has (rightly) been given to the hundreds of New Zealanders currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, and to the nearly 3000 New Zealanders who, as a result of kidney failure, face having to spend four-eight hours every second or third day hooked up to a dialysis machine.

Little publicity, however, is given to the 1 in 10 New Zealanders whose lives are heading in that direction if their kidney disease goes undetected.

Because that is the unusual nature of kidney disease. The majority of those with the disease will be blithely unaware of it.

Kidney Health New Zealand's medical adviser, Dr Colin Hutchison, explains:

''Kidney disease is often described as the silent killer. The reason for this is that until kidney disease is very advanced there are almost no symptoms. It is not uncommon that the first time an individual is aware they have a kidney problem is when they have had a blood test and it is an incidental finding. A person's kidney function can fall from 100% to less than 30% with no symptoms and sometimes as low as 15% before symptoms start. By that stage, the need for a transplant or dialysis is virtually inevitable.''

That paints a very bleak picture. But it needn't. ''In New Zealand we know that over half of severe cases of kidney disease are secondary to other preventable causes which if picked up early and managed well the health of a person's kidneys can be greatly improved,'' Dr Hutchison said. ''And the good news is that the predictors (or risk factors) associated with kidney disease are both well-known and very easily tested for.

So who is at risk? The following have been identified as key risk factors for chronic kidney disease:

  • Aged over 60 years
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Maori, Pacific, South Asian origin
  • Overweight

If you have any of these risk factors, ask your doctor the next time you visit for a kidney health check.

A simple blood or urine test is all that it will take. Kidney disease can be treated.

The earlier you know you have it, the better your chances of receiving the treatment needed to stop its progression. It's that simple.

For further information, see your doctor, or visit Kidney Health New Zealand's website:

-Max Reid is the chief executive of Kidney Health NZ.

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