Diabetes is a leading cause of kidney failure. The reason? Diabetic kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy) is a common, long-term complication that results from the vascular abnormalities that high blood sugar causes. What's more, diabetes is often the main cause of the most advanced stage of kidney disease (known as end stage renal disease, or ESRD).

If you have diabetes, it's important to understand your risks for kidney problems.

What is Kidney Disease?

The kidneys remove waste and excess fluid from your body, maintain the balance of salt and minerals, and help regulate blood pressure — all life-sustaining functions. If your kidneys become damaged, waste and fluids build up in the bloodstream, which can lead to a range of problems, including:

• Swelling
• Vomiting
• Weakness
• Poor sleep
• Shortness of breath

Leaving these symptoms untreated can lead to kidney failure, which can be fatal.

Why Does Diabetes Increase the Risk of Kidney Disease?

Over time, high blood sugar levels overwork the kidneys. Eventually, the kidneys will start to leak small amounts of protein (albumin) into the urine, a first sign of kidney damage. Although it can take 15 to 25 years before you see any signs of kidney failure, maintaining control of your diabetes is integral to avoiding kidney problems down the road.

Not all diabetics will develop kidney disease, but certain factors make some people more susceptible than others. These include family history, blood sugar control and blood pressure. Generally, the better you control your blood sugar as a diabetic, along with your blood pressure, the more you lower your risks for kidney disease.

How Can You Keep Your Kidneys Healthy?

As mentioned, be sure to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Experts recommend staying below 130/80 mm/hg. Other factors to keep an eye on:

Cholesterol: Stay in your recommended target range.

Diet: Eat less salt and salt substitutes; stick with fresh, low-fat foods.

Exercise: Enjoy physical activity on a regular basis.

Medications: Be sure to take your prescribed medications, and talk to your doctor about blood tests that can help you monitor blood sugar on a regular basis to ensure that you are keeping your diabetes in control.

To learn more about this topic:
Caring for Kidneys: How to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes Complications
Controlling Complications: Diabetic Kidney Disease
Treating Diabetic Kidney Disease