Diabetic Nephropathy (Diabetic Kidney Disease)

What is Diabetic Nephropathy?

Diabetic nephropathy is not to be confused with diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic nephropathy is kidney damage or disease, and it can strike those with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The kidneys filter bodily waste from the bloodstreamusing groups of tiny blood vessels called glomeruli. Uncontrolled blood sugar, high cholesterol, hypertension, anemia, smoking and obesity significantly raise the risk ofdeveloping diabetic nephropathy. Damage to the glomerulican greatly reduce or haltkidney function. However, when diagnosed early the damage may be reversible.

What are the Symptoms of Diabetic Nephropathy?

There are no signs or symptoms in the very early stages of diabetic nephropathy. It is very important for diabetics to have regular testing to check for protein in the urine. As kidney function worsens symptoms will develop.

Symptoms include

  • Swelling, especially in the feet and legs
  • Leg cramps
  • Protein (albumin) in the urine
  • High blood urea nitrogen levels
  • High levels of serum creatinine
  • Hypertension
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Itchy skin
  • Anemia
  • Pallor
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced need for diabetes meds or insulin

Diabetic Nephropathy Causes

Diabetic nephropathy or diabetic kidney disease is a common complication for patients suffering from diabetes, both types I and II. It is a result of damage to the blood vessels that form the filtering system inside the kidneys. This damage is caused by the high blood pressure that often occurs as a byproduct of high blood sugar. Patients with diabetes who also suffer from high cholesterol are at even greater risk of developing nephropathy, as are smokers. Diabetics who follow an unhealthy diet with too much meat and salt also put more pressure on the kidneys, making kidney damage more likely over the long-term. Both salt and protein are hard on kidneys. Left untreated, it can ultimately result in complete renal shutdown.

How is Diabetic Nephropathy Treated?

It is of the utmost importance to treat and control medical conditions that contribute to diabetic nephropathy.

Treatment includes

  • Heart-healthy, low-sodium, low-protein diet plan
  • Weight monitoring
  • Regular exercise
  • Control and maintenance of blood glucose levels
  • High blood pressure medication
  • Cessation of tobacco products
  • Anemia treatment

Diabetic Nephropathy Prevention

The best way to prevent diabetic nephropathy is to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and avoid developing diabetes altogether. Type II diabetes (adult onset) is often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, particularly including too much sugar and processed food in the diet, too little physical activity, obesity and smoking. A more nutritious and balanced diet that limits sugar intake, regular exercise which can help maintain a healthy weight and avoiding cigarettes and cigarette smoke are all measures that can prevent the onset of diabetes. If the patient already has diabetes, either type I (juvenile diabetes) or type II, diabetic nephropathy can still be prevented.

All of the healthy lifestyle choices listed above can certainly help keep the kidneys healthy and functioning and reduce the patient’s complications from the diabetes itself. Good diabetic management and treatment is essential in preventing significant effects on other organs of the body, especially the eyes and the kidneys. Effective treatment includes regular medical care, correct dosages of insulin and other blood sugar medications that can keep blood sugar levels at or near normal, and careful use of over the counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen which can cause kidney damage independently of diabetes. Judicious use of high blood pressure medication can help control damage to the cardiovascular system and to the blood vessels of the kidneys.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 14, 2017
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