Diabetes and kidney disease

What are the kidneys?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are connected to the bladder. They are located below the ribs near the back.

What do the kidneys do?

The kidneys have many different jobs, but one of the most important is to filter the blood, removing waste through the urine and return the clean blood back to the body.

How does diabetes affect the kidneys?

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and have high blood glucose (sugar) and high blood pressure, you have an increased risk of developing kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy). Smoking further increases your risk of developing kidney disease.

High blood glucose and high blood pressure can force the kidneys to work harder to clean the blood. When the kidneys are forced to work harder than usual, they may get worn out more quickly. However, the kidneys are able to keep working – even when they are getting worn out – without giving you any noticeable signs there are problems developing. Over time the kidneys become damaged so that only 10-25 per cent of the kidney is still working. When this happens, it is called kidney failure.

What can I do to prevent kidney damage?

There are many things you can do to reduce the risk of getting kidney disease. You can:

  • eat healthy;
  • monitor your blood glucose levels;
  • keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control;
  • avoid smoking;
  • get kidney or bladder infections treated immediately;
  • get tested for kidney damage every year; and
  • see your family physician / nurse practitioner and other health care professionals on a regular basis.

Should I be screened for possible kidney damage?

You may not experience any symptoms in the early stages of kidney disease, so it’s important to be screened regularly to detect any kidney problems, as early as possible. Your doctor may recommend two simple tests to check for kidney damage:

  1. a urine test (for microalbuminuria) – to measure the amount of protein in your urine; and
  2. a GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate) test – to measure how well your kidneys are working  to remove waste and excess fluid from the blood.

What happens if the kidneys fail?

Most damage to the kidneys cannot be repaired and is often irreversible. If you have kidney failure, it may be treated by dialysis or you may need a kidney transplant.

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a procedure that cleans the waste out of the blood and excess fluid when the kidneys are no longer functioning enough to do so.

For more information, visit the Diabetes Canada website.

Published date: 
June 30, 2021
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