By Kim Walter
WINCHESTER - Lane Higdon, a Winchester Medical Center nurse, knows first hand the importance of raising awareness for kidney health.
When her sister was 13, following a young diagnosis and treatment of cancer, she was diagnosed with kidney failure and put on dialysis. At 16, though, she was given a new lease on life when she received a kidney transplant.
"Now, four years later, she is able to do whatever she puts her mind to," Higdon said. "So please, consider being an organ donor because you just don't know whose life you might save."
In 2006, Higdon was part of a team of nurses who started the medical center's annual World Kidney Day event. She said at the time, she and coworkers were concerned over the high number of patients with kidney failure who "had no idea how they got to that point."
This year's community education and awareness event was held Thursday, and provided over 100 participants with free blood and urine screenings, as well as information on risk factors, prevention and treatment options for chronic kidney disease.
Those who had screenings done were able to find out at the event if they were displaying signs of possible kidney failure.
"This truly is a silent epidemic," Higdon said. "Over the years, I'd say about 40 percent of the people we screen wind up having to schedule follow-up appointments in order to avoid some stage of kidney failure, but they had no idea that anything was wrong."
Higdon said that on more than one occasion some people who had the free screenings had to be rushed to the emergency room, as they were suffering from chronic kidney disease on the spot.
"Early detection is key," she said.
Archana Shyamsunder, a nephrologist at Renal Physician Associates of Winchester, gave a presentation outlining kidney function, types of kidney failure, treatment and prevention.
The basic function of the kidney, she said, is to filter the body's blood and remove waste - something it does several times a day. Some lesser known functions include releasing a hormone to regulate blood pressure and producing active vitamin D.
"They are very sophisticated filters," she said.
Acute kidney injury is different from chronic kidney disease in that it happens suddenly instead of gradually. Around 26 million Americans are affected by kidney disease, she said.
The top common risk factors for kidney disease and failure are having diabetes or high blood pressure. However, people with family history of kidney complications, smokers or some lesser known autoimmune diseases can be prone to kidney failure as well.
People can also damage their kidney function by abusing widely used medications, like Ibuprofen, Advil or Motrin.
"You should know your family medical history, always know your blood pressure and blood sugar numbers, and really just do things that contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle," said Shyamsunder.
With five different severity stages of kidney failure, Shyamsunder said that even if one is diagnosed, "there is still hope," especially if it is detected early on.
There are some over the counter medications that can help slow the process of kidney failure, so she said communication between a patient and their general practitioner is important. Dialysis, a treatment method that uses an artificial kidney machine, is usually the last option used, as it can take a toll on a patient's quality of life.
The machine drains a person's blood and cleanses it, as a working kidney would. The process can take several hours. Technology has advanced to the point that some patients can undergo dialysis at home, Shyamsunder said.
"Really, dialysis should be a bridge to ultimately getting a kidney transplant," she said.
Shyamsunder presented the "Eight golden rules" to follow to prevent kidney failure, which included regular check ups on kidney function, maintaining healthy fluid intake, staying fit and active and keeping blood sugar levels and blood pressure regulated.
"The reason we're here is prevention," she said. "Our kidneys should outlive our lifespan."
For more information about kidney healthy, visit www.worldkidneyday.org.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com