Diabetic Nephropathy

What is nephropathy?
Diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys, this is also known as renal disease or diabetic nephropathy.  About 20% of people with diabetes may develop nephropathy, over the years the number of people with this condition has declined and if detected early nephropathy can usually be treated successfully.

Symptoms of nephropathy

In the early stages there are no obvious symptoms of nephropathy, which is why it is really important to have regular tests for the condition. If nephropathy is not treated the body will lose too much protein in the urine which may make the urine froth and lead to a buildup of fluid in the body (oedema), especially at the ankles. This condition can result in end stage renal failure, where the kidneys cannot remove waste products from the body – leading to dialysis or a transplant.

Diagnosis of nephropathy
A simple urine dipstick test to show if there is protein present in the urine is all that is needed to detect the early stages of nephropathy. If detected early, nephropathy is often treated successfully. Urine should be tested at least once a year for protein, a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean there is nephropathy, as other conditions such as infections can increase protein in urine.
What causes nephropathy?
Nephropathy is caused by damage to tiny blood vessels that supply the kidneys. The blood vessel walls become thicker or irregular which stops them filtering waste products out of the blood into the urine efficiently, or causing them to fail altogether.

Treatment for nephropathy
If detected at an early stage ie. when small but abnormal amounts of protein appear in the urine, successful treatments are available. These can include changes to diets by restricting the intake of proteins, taking regular exercise and controlling high blood pressure. Avoiding alcohol and smoking, and checking blood glucose levels regularly Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor drugs may be prescribed by the doctor as they have been found to protect kidneys from further damage.

If nephropathy worsens, dialysis may be required, or in a worse case scenario a kidney transplant may be necessary.

Maintaining near normal levels of blood glucose and blood pressure can greatly reduce the risk of diabetic nephropathy as well as other diabetes complications.