African-Americans are three times more likely to develop kidney disease; here are three ways to prevent it.

By Glenn Ellis

Many African Americans already know they have diabetes or high blood pressure, but are not aware they may also have kidney disease. (Wikimedia Commons)
Many African Americans already know they have diabetes or high blood pressure, but are not aware they may also have kidney disease. (Wikimedia Commons)

Each year, kidney disease kills more people than breast or prostate cancer.

Given the staggering rates of kidney disease in the African-American community, African Americans need to pay particular attention to their kidney health. Kidney disease often has no symptoms in its early stages and can go undetected until it is very advanced. For this reason, kidney disease is often referred to as a “silent disease.”

Black Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to develop kidney disease and to require dialysis. Since the late 1970s, the incidence of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) has increased at a fourfold higher rate among African-Americans, compared with whites.

The two most common causes of kidney disease in the black population are the same as other races: diabetes and high blood pressure, in that order. And yet, blacks are twice as likely as whites to develop diabetes and also more likely to develop kidney failure from high blood pressure and diabetes than any other racial group.

About 30 percent of people with diabetes will go on to develop kidney failure, while even more may be at risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease. Eighty to ninety percent of patients with type 2 diabetes also have hypertension, a major risk factor for diabetic kidney disease.

African Americans account for 67 percent of prevalent dialysis patients, but only 39 percent of the prevalent transplant population. Many African Americans already know they have diabetes or high blood pressure, but are not aware they may also have kidney disease. They are shocked to be diagnosed with kidney failure and then immediately begin dialysis. Even though their kidney disease progressed over time to kidney failure, it’s as if it happened suddenly. More than 661,000 Americans have kidney failure; of these, 468,000 individuals are on dialysis, and roughly 193,000 live with a functioning kidney transplant.

Once the kidney function drops to a certain level, dialysis becomes necessary. Dialysis helps the body by performing the functions of failed kidneys. The kidney has many roles. An essential job of the kidney is to regulate the body’s fluid balance. It does this by adjusting the amount of urine that is excreted daily.

The average annual cost for a dialysis patient, including hospitalization, is between $70,000 and $100,000 per patient. There are over 6,000 dialysis centers in the United States, with at least 92 percent of them located in free standing locations throughout most communities. Dialysis treatments usually last three to five hours, and the treatment is typically needed three times per week.

Not all kidney disorders are permanent. Dialysis can temporarily serve the same function as kidneys until your own kidneys repair themselves and begin to work on their own again. However, in chronic kidney disease, the kidneys rarely get better. You must go on dialysis permanently or until a kidney transplant becomes an option if you have this condition.

Here are three steps that you can take to prevent kidney disease and to detect it early in order to slow the progression to kidney failure:

Ask your family for information. Talk to your parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles about whether anyone in your family has high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease. Ask if anyone has had a kidney transplant or been on dialysis. Family history is one of the most important risk factors for kidney disease.

Get tested. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, a family history of kidney failure or are over age 60, you should be tested. There are two simple kidney tests that should be done annually. Ask your healthcare provider for a blood test to calculate how well your kidneys are filtering wastes from the blood. Also, request that your healthcare provider checks for protein in the urine, one of the earliest signs of kidney damage. Together, these provide an assessment of your overall kidney health.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle. If you have risk factors for kidney disease or are living with kidney disease, you can protect your kidneys and preserve your kidney health by following a healthy lifestyle. The DASH ((Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to have the greatest effect on blood pressure in the African American population. Adopt a low salt DASH diet and try to maintain a healthy body weight. Increase your physical activity to incorporate an extra 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Don’t smoke. Avoid alcohol to excess and steer clear of street drugs.

Nearly one-half of the increased risk of Kidney Failure among African-American adults can be eliminated just by modifying the risk factors.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to kidney disease, awareness and prevention are critical to reducing this racial disparity.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. For more good health information, visit: