The Link Between Diabetes and Kidney Disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 11% of Nevadans have been diagnosed with diabetes, up from 5% in 1995. And there’s a good chance that number is even higher, as many people have just not been diagnosed.

“A lot of people don’t like to go to the doctor because they’re afraid of finding out what’s wrong with them,” says Dr. Robert Quigley of Sierra Nevada Nephrology. “But if you know what’s wrong, you can do something about it.”

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when our blood glucose (also called blood sugar) is too high. Blood glucose, which comes from the food we eat, is our main source of energy. For people who are diabetic, their bodies don’t produce enough insulin, which means that glucose stays in their blood and doesn’t reach their cells.

High blood glucose levels can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, making them less effective at filtering impurities and waste from blood. Many people with diabetes also develop high blood pressure, and the CDC has determined that people who have type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

“Diabetes is mostly a vascular disease, which is why it affects organs like eyes, feet and yes, kidneys,” Dr. Quigley says. “Kidneys keep what’s good and get rid of what’s bad in our bodies. Diabetes affects their ability to do this, causing us to lose more protein than we should.”

Dr. Quigley goes on to explain that we all lose a small portion of kidney function as we age, but diabetes causes a more rapid decline. “The goal of kidney disease treatment is to slow the progression and limit kidney function loss to the same rate as our healthy peers,” he explains.

Related: Kidney Health is Critical to Overall Health

Preventing kidney disease

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, so paying attention to the signs of diabetes and addressing them early is one way to prevent the possible need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. has broken down findings from the CDC, which has determined that certain groups are at higher risk for diabetes than others:

  • Men, compared with women
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults, compared with other racial and ethnic groups
  • Adults with less than a high school education, compared with those with a higher education level (prevalence decreases as educational attainment increases)
  • Adults with income less than $25,000, compared with other income levels
  • Older adults, compared with younger adults

If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll want to be aware of warning signs. If you begin to experience the symptoms below, discuss them with your physician, who may prescribe a blood test.

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections, including gum, skin and vaginal

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll want to get tested for kidney disease every year. And patients with high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure should talk to their health care provider about how often to get tested.

“Untreated, diabetes can lead to kidney disease, neuropathy or blindness, so it’s very important that people are aggressive about controlling it,” Dr. Quigley says. “A lot of the symptoms might seem like small issues, but it’s much better to get control of them early.”

The key to healthier kidneys

In addition to regular check-ups, Dr. Quigley talks about the importance of paying attention to our overall health. “Taking care of yourself is essential,” he says. “And for most type 2 diabetes patients, it’s about weight, so make sure you’re controlling that. Weight loss is a big deal, as it can help control diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.”

He recommends stepping on the scale every day so you have a baseline to check against. “Knowing how much you weigh could prevent that 10 pounds of extra holiday weight creep,” he says.

Dr. Quigley says not to beat yourself up if the scale doesn’t show you what you’d like to see. “If you have a bad day, just work to do better the next day,” he says. “None of us are perfect. We all make bad food choices or skip being active, but we always have the ability to reset.”

If you’re at high risk, here are some other things you can do to protect yourself from diabetes and kidney disease, in addition to regular check-ups and controlling our weight:

  • Eat a low-salt, low-fat diet
  • Limit protein and potassium
  • Maintain a balance of calcium and phosphorous
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco
  • Limit alcohol

If you do get diagnosed with kidney disease, make an appointment with a nephrologist (kidney doctor) as soon as possible, who can help you take control of your health and provide long-term solutions when necessary.

“We look at modifiable factors like diet and exercise, and then we’ll review medications to make sure they’re on the right ones,” Dr. Quigley says. “We do everything we can to give our patients their best chance at a normal life.”

If you would like to discuss your symptoms or diagnosis, schedule a consultation with Sierra Nevada Specialty Care at 775.322.4550. Our practice has more than a dozen physicians and 10 nurse practitioners serving patients throughout Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Northern Nevada’s rural communities.