Protect Your Kidneys, Control Diabetes, Op-Ed

Department of Health
March 10, 2010

NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece by Susan MacNeil, manager, Nova Scotia Renal Program.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. More than 40 per cent of people that need dialysis also have diabetes.With an estimated two million Canadians living with diabetes, and more than 75,000 in Nova Scotia alone, National Kidney Month in March has never been more important. By the time kidney disease is detected, it is often too late. It means individuals have already lost most of their kidney function and will require dialysis or transplantation.

In each of the last 10 years, we have seen, on average, a six per cent increase in the number of people being treated for kidney disease. About 650 Nova Scotians require dialysis and another 762 are living with a transplanted kidney.

Kidney Month offers an important reminder to the health-care community, those at risk and the public that kidney disease is common and treatable. Under-diagnosis of kidney disease is a worldwide problem, and more work is needed to promote early detection and prevention of kidney disease. The primary focus of our efforts needs to be on public awareness, monitoring and education here in Nova Scotia.

This month we are asking all Nova Scotians to learn more about how to protect their kidneys, especially if they have diabetes. Knowing the signs and symptoms of kidney disease is vital. They include high blood pressure, blood or protein in urine, puffiness of the eyes, hands and feet, fatigue, loss of appetite, and itchiness.

The focus of World Kidney Day, Thursday, March 11, is protecting kidneys by controlling diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes (high blood glucose) causes damage to small blood vessels in kidneys. These vessels filter waste products and water from the body. When blood vessels are damaged and no longer work well, dialysis or transplantation is needed to survive. About half of people with diabetes develop some degree of kidney damage (from mild to severe). Although there is no cure for diabetes, good control of blood glucose can prevent further kidney damage. Good control means keeping blood glucose values at or near target through healthy eating, regular physical activity and the routine, regular use of prescribed medications.

Remember, if you have diabetes, regular kidney tests will identify problems early. If early changes are found, a doctor and diabetes health-care team can provide steps to slow continued kidney damage.

Kidney disease can be detected early through simple blood and urine tests ordered by a family doctor. People at high risk for kidney disease should be screened every year. Risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, older than 50 years, family history and being of Aboriginal or African Canadian descent.

The Nova Scotia Renal Program, a provincial program of the Department of Health, is committed to raising awareness of kidney disease, implementing standardized monitoring programs, and promoting public and health-care professional education. We work closely with other provincial programs, such as the Diabetes Care Program of Nova Scotia and Cardiovascular Health Nova Scotia, to identify the provincial burden of chronic illness, address common risk factors and support integrated chronic disease management.

If you have diabetes, you are at increased risk for kidney disease. Please talk to your family doctor, make sure you have regular tests to check kidney function, and take good care of your diabetes.


Media Contacts:

Susan MacNeil
Nova Scotia Renal Program
E-mail: susan.macneil[at]

Cheryl Stevenson-Gillis
Nova Scotia Renal Program
E-mail: cheryl.stevenson-gillis[at]

Krista Higdon
Department of Health
E-mail: krista.higdon[at]

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