A couple of Saturdays ago I attended a meeting of Kidney Health New Zealand’s Consumer Council. The Council comprises around 18-20 individuals from around the country, each with kidney disease of varying types and progression. We only meet once a year, and only for around five hours – for those attendees on dialysis, the logistics involved in planning their dialysis around such an event preclude meeting more often or for longer.
Each meeting begins with a round of introductions. How they do that has always been over to the group – but always the format has been the same: name, where they’re from, and the nature of their condition.
“Hi, I’m Ben from Tauranga – on home haemodialysis.”
“Morena. Haami. Northland. In-centre haemodialysis.”
“Hi. My name’s Bridget. I’m from Christchurch, a transplant recipient, but also the mother of a deceased organ donor.”
“Hello. I’m Gaynor from Wellington. At this stage on peritoneal dialysis as a result of nephrotic syndrome. Same as my father had; same as my two brothers have.”
Finally, after about sixteen similar introductions – two or three late apologies … due (predictably) to ill health – I get to introduce myself.
“Hi. I’m Max, from Dunedin. I’m the CEO of Kidney Health New Zealand. And, I have to acknowledge, I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t have kidney disease.”
“Not yet!” shouts Haami from his motorised wheelchair down the back of the room.
He’s right, of course. I’m a bit overweight. I’m trying to keep my pre-diabetes in the pre- stage. And I’m not alone.
Best estimates – based on international evidence – suggest that one in ten New Zealanders will likely have chronic kidney disease. Possibly higher, given that we pretty much lead the world with our obesity and diabetes statistics. But chronic kidney disease (CKD) has one unusual trait that sets it apart from other chronic illnesses: its symptoms don’t manifest themselves until very late in the disease’s progression. So late, in fact, that if left undiagnosed until an individual becomes symptomatic, it is virtually inevitable that such an individual will need either a kidney transplant or to be connected to a dialysis machine three times a week for the rest of their (much-shortened) life.
One in ten. And 90% of those one in ten will, of course, be blithely unaware of the fact until either some symptoms appear or their disease is diagnosed incidental to some other illness.
A bleak picture? Absolutely. But it needn’t be so. Over half of severe cases of kidney disease are secondary to other preventable causes which if picked up early and managed well can greatly improve the health of your kidneys. Plus, the risk factors for CKD are well-known and very easily tested for.
So are you at risk? The following have been identified as key predictors for chronic kidney disease:
- Aged over 60 years
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Family history of kidney disease
- Maori, Pacific, South Asian origin
If you have any of these risk factors, ask your doctor the next time you visit for a kidney health check. A simple blood or urine test is all that it will take. Kidney disease can be treated. The earlier you know you have it, the better your chances of receiving the treatment needed to stop its progression.
It’s that simple.
Names and locations have been changed for reasons of privacy; the conditions described are real.
Max Reid lives in Dunedin and works a few days each week out of Kidney Health New Zealand’s national office in Christchurch. For further information about kidney disease, phone 0800 KIDNEYS (0800 543639) or visit www.kidneys.co.nz