The ‘silent killer’ chronic kidney disease is in your waiting room

by | Kidney Health, What We're Talking About

Chronic kidney disease is estimated to affect more than 1.7 million Australians, but nine out of 10 of them are completely unaware they have the condition. The number of people undergoing dialysis and transplants has more than doubled in the past two decades, and as COVID-19 emerges as a new risk factor, experts say the need for early detection has never been more important. Kidney damage increases the risk of premature death, amplifying the damage done by heart disease.

Almost 15,000 Australians are currently on dialysis, and modelling from Australia’s Dialysis and Transplant Registry predicts another 4,000 people could be on dialysis by the end of the decade.

Anyone can develop chronic kidney disease, but one in three Australians are at an increased risk because of diabetes, high blood pressure or lifestyle factors.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Every day, on average, 63 people with kidney disease die in Australia. While the condition affects one in 10 non-Indigenous Australians, First Nations people are twice as likely to develop kidney disease and nearly four times more likely to die with it.

The 2012-13 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Measure Survey (NATSIHMS) indicated that among Aboriginal and Torres Strait adults, 18% had signs of chronic kidney disease. Yet in 2018-19, NATSIHMS found that fewer than 2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people self-reported having kidney disease.

We may see is a further rise in chronic kidney disease because of COVID

Kidney disease has been growing for a while, primarily because we are seeing a big rise in diabetes – the main cause of renal failure. But what we may see is a further rise in chronic kidney disease because of COVID infection. Emerging data suggest that kidney injury is common with COVID, and we know that an episode of kidney injury during an acute illness sets someone up for increased risk of future chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.

Researchers from the University of Queensland recently led a study into acute kidney injury in COVID patients.

According to Professor Karen Dwyer, a kidney specialist, Professor of Medicine at Deakin University and the Clinical Director at Kidney Health Australia, education is key for both members of the public and practitioners.

“Fundamental to all this is to focus again on health and wellbeing. The importance good nutrition, removing ultra-processed foods, addressing the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages which we know impacts so many aspects of someone’s health, advocacy on physical activity, stress management, and sleep. All these are fundamental foundational components of management – people can be empowered to self-manage, but they need to be given the right advice,” she told the Health Report on ABC Radio National.

Professor Dwyer says acute kidney injury isn’t the only risk. COVID can worsen or even increase the risk of developing diabetes, which is the leading risk factor for chronic kidney disease, while some people with long COVID see a decline in kidney function.

“We need to slow this progression down, and to start thinking about how we prevent somebody actually reaching kidney failure. Let’s look at early detection of kidney disease, find the diagnosis, and then provide people with strategies, managements, treatments to actually slow progression, but most importantly, maintain health and wellbeing and not wait for somebody to develop that more severe end-stage or kidney failure phase,” Professor Dwyer said.


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