Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease

Lynne Wright has a deep appreciation about the role healthy kidneys play in people’s lives, because unhealthy ones have played a huge role in hers.

Kidney disease nearly claimed the life of her husband, Scott. A 25-year-old woman donated the kidney that saved him. That kind act inspired Lynne, in 2020, to become a kidney donor.

Now helping people with kidney disease is a full-time job for Wright. She runs the Patient and Family Partner Program for the Kidney Foundation of Central Pennsylvania. That program trains volunteers, most of whom have been touched by kidney disease, to counsel clients facing the disease – and the fear and uncertainty that accompanies it – for the first time.

The foundation calls it “emotional support from people who have been there.”

Capital Blue Cross understands kidney health. It teamed up with Strive Health to help coordinate better care, at no extra cost, for members with moderate (stage 3) chronic kidney disease (CKD) or worse. That is when noticeable symptoms of CKD, such as weakness and fatigue or swelling in the hands or feet, typically begin for many people, according to experts from the National Kidney Foundation and the Mayo and Cleveland clinics, among others.

The program’s nurse practitioners, dietitians, social workers, and care managers understand the science of CKD, and can help members coordinate care with doctors, comply with treatment, and even help them shop for kidney-healthy foods.

“Chronic kidney disease is life-altering and, all too often, life-ending,” said Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, Capital Blue Cross’ Chief Medical Officer. “This program, with its focus on education, and with the support of its medical professionals, can improve quality of life for members and help keep CKD from progressing to a point where more expensive care is required.”

Kidneys are small but mighty organs.

Roughly the size of a computer mouse, healthy kidneys filter the waste, toxins, and excess fluid from our blood every 30 minutes. They are critical to healthy bones, blood, blood pressure, and more. 

About 37 million people in the U.S. suffer from some level of CKD ranging from stage 1, where kidneys have mild damage, but still work well, to stage 5, where kidneys barely work or have failed completely, according to the American Kidney Fund.

In 2019, treating Medicare beneficiaries with CKD cost $87.2 billion, and treating people with end stage renal disease cost an additional $37.3 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationwide, about 60% of the medical costs related to CKD are from hospitalizations, some of which are avoidable.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of kidney failure. People over 60 are at greater risk, and heart disease, obesity, family history, and tobacco use amplify those risks.

About 40% of those in the earliest stages of the disease are unaware they have it, and therefore less aware of a need to slow its progression, according to the CDC.

The Kidney Foundation of Central PA urges people to protect their kidneys by adopting behaviors and lifestyle changes to keep blood pressure under control:

  • Check it regularly and record your results.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing 10 pounds can help reduce blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Reduce sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day.
  • Take prescribed blood pressure medication even when feeling good.
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Limit use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

“Take care of your kidneys before you have a problem,” Wright said. “Get those regular checkups and blood tests.” 

Additionally, she urges those facing kidney disease to take care of their emotional health, something her Patient and Family Partner Program can help with.

“Kidney failure is a scary thing,” she said. “Talking with those who have already faced those challenges is an important part of care.”