Kidney and Women’s Health: Include, Value and Empower

This year (2018), the World Kidney Day which is celebrated annually, coincides with the International Women’s Day, thus offering an opportunity for us to reflect on the importance of women’s health to national development.

Every March, the National Kidney Foundation partners with other health groups from all over the world to make World Kidney Day (WKD) a global event. The main purpose of WKD is to create awareness about the importance of kidneys to overall well-being and to discuss best ways to prevent or slow down the progression of kidney disease.

Kidneys help to remove waste products from the body through the secretion of urine. They also assist in filtering the human blood before sending it back to the heart, and they create hormones that help produce red blood cells, promote bone health, and regulate blood pressure.

Today, millions of people around the world are affected with chronic kidney disease (CKD), irrespective of their age, gender, race, or ethnic background. However, studies have shown that the risk for CKD is slightly greater in women than in men – 14% women versus 12% men. This is entirely based on the anatomy of women and the fact that the risk of CKD increases in pregnancy.

To ignore the relationship between a healthy kidney and women’s health would be to gamble with the lives of 50% of the world’s population; important contributors to society and families.

Catching it before it manifests

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), HIV infection and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are known risk factors for kidney disease that are more frequent in women than in men. Pregnancy places an additional burden on the kidney health of women, and complications of pregnancy are a frequent cause of kidney disease. More so, oestrogen which is prevalent in females is reduced at menopause, so at this age the risk becomes higher in women (age 60–65 years). For younger women, smoking, heredity and abnormal kidney structure may cause kidney disease.

As with most diseases, early diagnosis and preventive measures can deter or reduce the extent of damage caused by the disease. For kidney disease, if you have symptoms as mild as nausea, loss of appetite and persistent itching to more serious symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, high blood pressure and swelling of feet/ankles, it is best to consult your doctor. Your doctor would help you to manage your medical condition and if you have conditions that increase your risk of kidney disease, work with your doctor to control them.

Don’t smoke!

Cigarette smoking can damage your kidneys and make existing kidney damage worse. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about strategies for quitting smoking. Support groups, counselling and medications can all help you to stop.

Maintain a healthy weight.

If you’re at a healthy weight, work to maintain it by being physically active most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor about strategies for healthy weight loss. Often this involves increasing daily physical activity and reducing calories.

And finally…

Follow instructions on over-the-counter medications. When using non-prescription pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), follow the instructions on the package. Taking too many pain relievers could lead to kidney damage and generally should be avoided if you have kidney disease. Ask your doctor whether these drugs are safe for you as you do not want to have potential complications such as a sudden rise in potassium levels in your blood, anaemia, fluid retention and damage to your central nervous system.

Education about risk factors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key to preventing all types of kidney disorders. In honour of World Kidney Day, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism advises you to take some time to inform yourself about the importance of kidneys to your health.