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Diabetes is a disease that occurs when a person’s body doesn’t make enough of the hormone insulin or can’t use insulin properly. There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body’s pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or your body’s cells ignore the insulin. Between 90-95% of people who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
When you digest food, your body changes most of the food you eat into glucose (a form of sugar). Insulin allows this glucose to enter all the cells of your body and be used as energy. When you have diabetes, because your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it properly, the glucose builds up in your blood instead of moving into the cells. Too much glucose in the blood can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and damage to the nerves and kidneys.
Diabetes can affect many parts of the body, including the kidneys. In healthy kidneys, many tiny blood vessels filter waste products from your body. The blood vessels have holes that are big enough to allow tiny waste products to pass through into the urine but are still small enough to keep useful products (such as protein and red blood cells) in the blood. High levels of sugar in the blood can damage these vessels if diabetes is not controlled. This can cause kidney disease, which is also called nephropathy (say: nef-rah-puh-thee). If the damage is bad enough, your kidneys could stop working.
Diabetic nephropathy does not usually cause any symptoms until kidney damage is severe. As the condition progresses, symptoms can include the following:
Your doctor will test your urine for protein. If there is protein in your urine, this could mean that your diabetes has damaged the holes in the blood vessels of your kidneys. This makes the holes big enough for protein and other nutrients your body needs to leak into your urine. Your doctor may also want to do a blood test to see how much damage has been done to the kidneys.
The following are some of the most important things you can do to protect your kidneys:
Even with the right treatments, diabetic nephropathy can get worse over time. Your kidneys could stop working. This is called kidney failure. If this happens, waste products build up in your body. This can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, shortness of breath and confusion. In severe cases, kidney failure can cause seizures and coma.
If you have kidney failure, your doctor will refer you for dialysis (say: die-al-uh-sis). In dialysis, a machine is used to take waste products out of the blood. One kind of dialysis has to be done in a clinic. For another kind of dialysis, the machine is so small it can be strapped to your body while you go about your daily activities. If you develop kidney failure, your doctor will help you decide which type of dialysis machine is right for you.