What is Diabetic Nephropathy?

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Diabetic nephropathy, or diabetic kidney disease, is a common condition associated with Type I or Type II diabetes. It is estimated that about 20-40% of diabetic patients develop some form of kidney disease. If undetected, diabetic nephropathy can be a debilitating and dangerous disease, which is why people with diagnosed diabetes have to be frequently monitored for kidney function.

The main role of the kidneys is to filter the blood and remove waste and harmful products, while maintaining proteins, water and other useful substances. More specifically, kidneys contain small blood vessels called glomeruli that are responsible for filtering a large volume of blood every day. There are two kidneys in the human body, working together in a complementary manner. However, if one kidney stops working, the glomeruli in the other kidney start filtering more blood to compensate for the loss of function. This is why people can live without issues if they have at least one functioning kidney.

In unregulated diabetes, blood sugar levels are elevated, which slowly damages the glomeruli. Furthermore, many diabetics also have high blood pressure, which also stresses kidney function over time. When glomeruli stop functioning properly, protein starts leaking in the urine and eventually harmful waste may stay in the bloodstream, causing severe problems.

Thankfully, diabetic nephropathy can be prevented in most cases by maintaining regulated blood sugar levels. However, even if a patient reaches the early stages of nephropathy, blood sugar regulation can slow down the progression of kidney disease. If left untreated, both kidneys may fail, in which case interventional treatments such as dialysis or even a kidney transplant may be necessary. Transplants can come from compatible organ donors that have fully functional kidneys and a compatible blood type to the recipient. Frequently, transplants come from living donors, which often are family members wanting to help their loved ones.

More resources on diabetic nephropathy

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-kidney-disease

  2. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/Diabetes-and-Kidney-Disease-Stages1-4

  3. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/why-diabetes-matters/kidney-disease–diabetes

— Vicky Kanta