The month of March is officially National Kidney Month, but for college basketball fans it's a month of basketball madness. Since kidney health and college basketball were both on my mind, I started to think about some of the similarities between preparing for a big basketball match-up and preventing injury to your kidneys.
To succeed at either, you must first gather information about your "opponent." March basketball is characterized by unpredictability and surprises. Acute kidney injury (AKI) is an abrupt decrease in kidney function that can sneak up on you when you least expect it, like a sleeper team that sinks a late three-pointer to advance to the Sweet 16.
If you are armed with knowledge and know what to expect, you can be prepared to protect your kidneys from AKI. And the preparation is much less grueling than your average morning practice. Channel your inner competitive athlete and get ready to guard your kidneys.
What exactly is AKI?
AKI is a syndrome that can have many different causes. Regardless of the cause, the result is the same: an abrupt decrease in kidney function. When properly diagnosed and treated, it's possible to recover from AKI, but it is a condition to take seriously. AKI is usually reversible, but it places people at a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease later on in life. AKI can also lead to increased risk of illness and death, both in the short and long-term.
The past decade has seen a sharp increase in AKI. In the United States, AKI is one of the most serious and common health complications, occurring in up to 20 percent of all hospitalized patients and more than 45 percent of patients in a critical care setting.
What can cause AKI? AKI also often occurs in unsuspecting people with no history of kidney disease and can be caused by the following:
- Drug toxicity (especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs)
- Severe diarrhea
- Exposure to intravenous (IV) contrast dyes used in imaging procedures
Are you at risk?
Anyone at any age can experience AKI, but there are certain characteristics that can make you more susceptible. African Americans, women, and the elderly are at increased risk for AKI. There are also certain conditions that place you at greater risk, such as dehydration and other chronic diseases such as heart disease, pre-existing chronic kidney disease, lung disease, and diabetes.
Are your kidneys working as they should be? Find out by asking your primary care provider to conduct two simple tests:
- A urine test for albumin, a protein which can indicate kidney damage.
- A blood test for serum creatinine to calculate an eGFR measurement. This test will show how well your kidneys are filtering wastes from the blood.
There are a number of preventive steps that doctors and health care providers can take to minimize the risk of AKI, especially in those at increased risk. Therefore, it's important to be aware of your kidney health.
How can you and your health care providers work together to prevent AKI? In honor of National Kidney Month this March, the National Kidney Foundation offers tips for preventing AKI:
- Certain medications and dyes used in medical tests are cleared by the kidneys. If your kidneys aren't functioning at their best, these medications may not be a good choice for you. Weigh the risks and benefits of medical tests that use medications and dyes cleared by the kidneys.
- Learn the risk factors for AKI and inform your doctors, particularly radiologists, anesthesiologists, and surgeons, before undergoing any procedures or tests.
- Stay hydrated.
- Steer clear of certain medications that are cleared by the kidneys. Avoid long-term use of kidney-toxic drugs, including over-the-counter NSAID pain medications such as ibuprofen.
- Avoid herbal remedies known to be toxic to the kidneys, such as Artemisia absinthium (wormwood plant) and Chuifong tuokuwan (Black Pearl).
This month, when you reach for your remote to cheer on your alma mater or favorite college basketball team, consider your kidneys. Preventing AKI is something that even the fiercest of sports rivals can come together and rally behind!
For more information about AKI and activities taking place during National Kidney Month, including free kidney health screenings, visit kidney.org.
For more by Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.
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