Symptoms, stages, causes, and treatment of diabetic nephropathy

Diabetic nephropathy is a type of kidney disease that affects people who have diabetes for a long time. It happens when a person’s kidneys are damaged by high blood glucose levels.

Diabetic nephropathy is a type of chronic kidney disease caused by diabetes. The kidneys aid in the regulation of fluid and salt levels in the body, which is critical for blood pressure control and cardiovascular health.

When a person has diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, or gestational diabetes, their bodies are unable to use or manufacture insulin properly. Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

High blood sugar levels are a symptom of diabetes. High glucose levels can harm several parts of the body over time, including the cardiovascular system and the kidneys. Diabetic nephropathy is the term for the kidney damage that occurs as a result of diabetes.

Diabetic nephropathy is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease in people with diabetes (ESRD). The kidneys in ESRD are no longer able to satisfy the demands of daily life. Kidney failure can occur as a result of ESRD, which can be life-threatening.

This page examines how diabetes affects the kidneys, as well as the treatment options and ways to prevent the risk.

Definition

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Because nephropathy is caused by damage caused by high blood glucose levels, it can affect people with any kind of diabetes.

High blood glucose levels have an effect on the arteries in the body, and the kidneys filter the blood that passes through them.

According to the authors of a 2016 study, 20–40 percent of people with diabetes suffer renal disease.

A person’s tests may reveal one or both of the following:

High levels of albumin in the urine: When the kidneys are in good shape, the urine should include no albumin protein.

A low glomerular filtration rate (GFR): The kidneys’ primary role is to filter the blood. Their ability to do so is hampered by kidney disease. The kidneys should ideally function at 100% or have a GFR of 100Trusted Source. A doctor will not diagnose renal disease unless the GFR is 60 percent or higher. Kidney disease affects 15–60% of the population. Kidney failure is indicated by a percentage of less than 15%.

The end stage of renal disease is ESRD. In the United States, diabetic nephropathy is the most common cause of ESRD. Diabetes is responsible for 40–50% of all occurrences of ESRD, according to Trusted Source. Dialysis will be required if a person has ESRD.

Controlling blood sugar levels can help to lower the risk. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you can lower your risk of diabetic nephropathy by doing the following:

  • blood glucose levels should be monitored and kept within the target range
  • consuming a nutritious, low-sugar, low-salt diet
  • exercising on a regular basis
  • adhering to a treatment plan that may include the use of insulin or other drugs
  • keeping a healthy weight is important.

What is chronic kidney disease? Find out more here.

Causes

Kidney damage puts a strain on these critical organs, preventing them from functioning normally.

When this occurs:

  • the kidneys cannot maintain healthy fluid levels in the body
  • the kidneys cannot remove waste products from the blood
  • the body starts to lose protein through the urine

Diabetic nephropathy takes time to develop. According to one study, 15 years after a diabetes diagnosis, a third of people have high levels of albumin in their urine. Only about half of these people will acquire complete nephritis.

Kidney disease is uncommon in people who have had diabetes for less than ten years, according to statistics. Also, if a person does not get nephropathy 20–25 years after diabetes begins, they have a low probability of developing it later.

Diabetic nephropathy is less likely if a diabetic’s blood glucose levels are well controlled.

Because of the damage to blood vessels, high blood glucose levels raise the risk of high blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can aggravate kidney disease.

Other potential dangers

Other aspects to consider are:

Smoking: A relationship between smoking and increased levels of inflammation may cause kidney injury. While the exact link between smoking and diabetes is unknown, people appear to have a higher risk of diabetes, as well as hypertension and kidney disease.

Age: Kidney disease, particularly a low GFR, is more common in people over the age of 65.

Sex: The condition is more common in men than in women.

Ethnicity, race, or both: African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans are more likely to have it.

Conditions of health: Obesity, chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high blood lipids (fats) are all risk factors for kidney disease.

Some of these risks are or appear to be contributing factors to diabetes or complications.

Diabetic nephropathy is distinct from diabetic neuropathy, a condition that affects the nerve system.

Stages and symptoms

A person with diabetic nephropathy may not experience any symptoms in the early stages. Changes in blood pressure and fluid balance in the body, on the other hand, may already be evident. Waste materials can accumulate in the blood over time, causing symptoms.

Stages

Depending on the GFR, which also measures the proportion of functional kidney function, a clinician may divide renal disease into phases.

Stage 1: Kidney damage is present, but kidney function is normal and the GFR is 90 percent or higher.

Stage 2: Kidney impairment, with some function loss and a GFR of 60–89%.

Stage 3: Mild to severe function loss, with a GFR of 30–59%.

Stage 4: Severe impairment of function with a GFR of 15–29%.

Stage 5: Kidney failure with a GFR of less than 15%.

Symptoms

A person may not detect any symptoms in the early stages. They may feel sick and exhibit the following symptoms at stage 4 or 5:

  • fatigue due to lack of oxygen in the blood
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a metallic taste in the mouth
  • swollen ankles, feet, lower legs, or hands due to water retention
  • darker urine due to blood in the urine
  • shortness of breath

Cardiovascular disease is a complication of late-stage renal disease.

Following a diabetic treatment plan and getting frequent health checks can help a person with diabetes maintain their blood sugar levels, lower their risk of kidney problems, and detect problems early.

A urine test is used to check for proteins in the urine during screening. Protein in the urine, on the other hand, does not always indicate kidney disease; it could also be the result of a urinary tract infection.

Treatment

Diabetic nephropathy can be delayed or prevented with early treatment.

The major goal of treatment is to keep blood glucose and blood pressure under control. This may entail the administration of drugs.

Drug treatment

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can help to control blood pressure, protect renal function, and avoid future damage.

In individuals with CKD associated with type 2 diabetes, Kerendia (finerenone) is a prescription drug that can minimize the risk of persistent GFR decline, end-stage renal disease, cardiovascular death, nonfatal myocardial infarction, and hospitalization for heart failure.

In addition, because people with kidney disease generally have low vitamin D levels, a doctor may give vitamin D or a statin to lower cholesterol levels.

For people with type 2 diabetes and CKD, the American College of Cardiology issued guidelines in 2018 supporting the use of sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors or glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs). These medications may lower the risk of CKD progression, heart attacks, or both.

Dietary changes

If you have kidney disease, your doctor may advise you to track the following nutrients:

Water: Although necessary, drinking too much water or fluid can lead to edema and high blood pressure.

Sodium: Because it is a salt component, it might elevate blood pressure.

Protein: Protein can cause waste to build up in the blood, putting extra strain on the kidneys in people who have kidney disease.

Phosphorus: This can be found in a variety of protein and dairy sources. Phosphorus overload can weaken bones and put strain on the kidneys.

Potassium: Potassium levels in people with kidney disease can be greater than they should be, which can harm nerve cells.

Keeping blood sugar levels in check

This is critical for reducing the risk of diabetes complications such as renal disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetic neuropathy, a nerve system disorder.

These disorders can also lead to additional difficulties. Blood sugar control can also help prevent these problems from arising.

Late-stage treatment options

Diabetic nephropathy can proceed to end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which necessitates dialysis or a kidney transplant. They will very certainly require dialysis for the remainder of their lives or until a kidney donation becomes available.

Dialysis

Kidney dialysis is a process that separates waste items from the blood and removes them from the body using a machine. Dialysis is used to replace a healthy kidney.

Dialysis comes in a variety of forms:

Hemodialysis: Blood is drawn from the body by a needle in the forearm and transported to a dialysis machine via a tube. The blood is filtered outside the body by the machine, then returned through a tube and needle.

Depending on the choice selected, a person may need to do this three to seven times a week and spend two to ten hours per session.

Dialysis can be done at a dialysis facility or at home, and in some cases, overnight alternatives are available. People are increasingly able to incorporate dialysis into their work and personal routines because to flexible choices.

Peritoneal dialysis: The peritoneum, or lining of the abdomen, is used to filter blood inside the body.

  • Dialysis fluid enters the abdomen by a catheter in continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). Before draining out, the fluid lingers inside for several hours, filtering waste materials. It takes 30–40 minutes to drain.
  • Continuous cycler-assisted peritoneal dialysis (CCPD), also known as automated peritoneal dialysis, involves a person sleeping linked to a dialysis machine for 8–10 hours. The fluid drainage is controlled by the machine.

Peritoneal dialysis can be done at home, at work, or while traveling. It provides flexibility and gives the individual some control over their condition. If a person is going to travel, for example, they will need to learn how to operate the essential equipment and make sure they have all of the necessary materials.

Kidney transplant

If diabetic nephropathy has progressed to the point where a kidney transplant is necessary and a qualified donor is available, a doctor may propose it. It may take some time to find a donor.

Because a person can live with only one functioning kidney, some people offer to donate a kidney to a loved one.

The individual who receives the kidney, on the other hand, may find that their body rejects the new organ. The body has the best chance of accepting a kidney donation from a family member.

To lessen the risk of the new kidney being rejected by the body, the individual who has had a kidney transplant will need to take medicine. This can have some negative consequences, such as raising the risk of infection.

Financial help

Many people can get financial assistance. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Medicare and Medicaid normally cover kidney failure treatment.

If all of the following apply, a person can acquire Medicare for ESRD at any age:

  • Their kidneys are no longer functional.
  • They require dialysis on a regular basis or have had a kidney transplant.
  • They have worked for Social Security, the Railroad Retirement Board, or as a government employee for the required amount of time.
  • They are receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement payments or are eligible for them.
  • They are the dependent kid or spouse of someone who fits one of the aforementioned criteria.

The individual should discuss their options with their insurance provider or their doctor.

Prevention

Controlling blood sugar and blood pressure is the greatest strategy for someone with diabetes to lower their risk of diabetic nephropathy.

This can be aided by making the following lifestyle changes:

  • checking blood glucose levels regularly
  • following any treatment plan their doctor suggests
  • limiting stress where possible
  • eating a nutritious diet that is high in fiber and low in sugar, processed carbohydrates, and salt
  • exercising regularly
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • avoiding tobacco

Learning as much as possible about diabetes and related consequences, such as kidney disease, can make a person feel more confident and in charge of their condition and prevention options.

The National Kidney Disease Education Program of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides a downloadable record of test results that can assist a person maintain track of their kidney testing and development.

Outlook

The outlook for diabetic nephropathy people will be determined by how well they manage their blood sugar and blood pressure levels, as well as the stage at which they are diagnosed. The sooner therapy begins, the better the outlook.

Diabetic nephropathy can be slowed or stopped with treatment. People with diabetes should have their blood pressure checked as recommended by their doctor and take precautions to prevent kidney disease from worsening.

Sources:

  • https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2025845
  • https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidney-failure/choosing-treatment
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  • https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidney-failure/eating-right
  • https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/gfr
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