What is the connection between diabetes and kidney failure?

Diabetes is a common condition that affects the way your body turns the glucose in food into energy that is stored in tissues. In the United States, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.

Diabetes makes up 44 percent of new cases of kidney failure each year. Currently 247,000 people are living with kidney failure caused by diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that by 2050, one in three Americans will suffer from diabetes, which will likely increase the number of patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Through decades of research and rapid advancements in diabetes-related research, we now know a lot about what links these two illnesses, how to protect your kidneys, and what treatment options are available.

For more information about living organ donation, please visit UPMC.com/LivingDonorKidney.

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How Does Diabetes Cause Chronic Kidney Disease?

High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels in the kidneys and cause kidney problems. These blood vessels act as filters to dispose of waste products in the body. In people with diabetes who have high blood glucose, the kidneys have to work harder to dispose of waste. Over time, this extra work can damage your kidneys, leading to CKD and kidney failure.

Common signs of CKD include:

  • Protein buildup in your urine
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling in your legs, or cramps
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Abnormal blood test results
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Anemia

“Chronic kidney disease is when the kidneys are not doing their job,” says Manisha Jhamb, MD, MPH, a nephrologist with UPMC. “The main function in the body is cleaning the blood and getting rid of excess water. When, over time, the kidneys are not performing their function, we call it chronic kidney disease.” 

Reduce Your Chances of Developing Chronic Kidney Disease

If you have diabetes but haven’t developed CKD, there are ways to protect your kidneys. Start by listening to your doctor’s guidance when it comes to your diabetes.

By keeping your illness under control, your blood sugar levels regular, and your blood pressure low, you can reduce your chances of developing CKD. People who have diabetes should get tested every year to catch early signs of the disease. 

“The prevalence of kidney disease is going to rise over the next few years,” says Dr. Jhamb. 

“The main reason for this is some of the risk factors that lead to development of this disease are on the rise. Most common ones are high blood pressure and diabetes. Also, as we get older and as our population is getting older, the risk for developing these kidney diseases rises.” 

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It may also help to reduce your dietary protein intake, promptly treat urinary tract infections, and avoid medications that may damage your kidneys (although some blood pressure medications are effective in reducing your risk for CKD). A safe exercise and weight loss program also can help to keep your kidneys healthy.

And don’t make any changes to your diet, medication, or exercise routine before talking with your doctor.

Treatments for Chronic Kidney Disease

If you do develop CKD that progresses to kidney failure (also called end stage renal disease), there are three treatment options:

  • Hemodialysis: This dialysis procedure filters your blood outside of your body, and can be done at home or at a clinic.
  • Peritoneal Dialysis: This form of dialysis uses the lining of your abdomen as a natural filter to clean the blood inside your body.
  • Kidney Transplant: During this procedure a healthy kidney is placed into your body from either a living or deceased donor.

With more than 95,000 Americans on the kidney transplant waiting list, many will die before receiving a deceased donor transplant.

At UPMC, we offer a better alternative: a living donation, where a kidney comes from a living person.

Chronic Kidney Disease and Living Donation: A Life-Saving Option

Finding a living donor to give you a healthy kidney can save your life. Your donor can be a friend, family member, or even a stranger — as long as the person meets the criteria to become a donor,

To find a donor, patients share their stories far and wide, often with the help of a Living Donor Champion who can help by taking the lead in finding a suitable living donor.

Potential donors undergo an extensive evaluation including physical and psychological examinations, blood work, and other tests to ensure that they can safely give.

During a living-donor kidney transplant, doctors remove a healthy kidney from the donor and transplant it into the transplant recipient. Although you have two kidneys, your body only requires one. The minimally invasive surgery leaves each patient with one fully functioning kidney.

Living donation helps reduce the shortage of organs and saves lives. By taking charge of the transplant process, you can receive a new kidney while you’re still in relatively good health, reduce the amount of dialysis you need, and improve your chances of having a successful outcome.

For more information about living donation, please visit UPMC.com/LivingDonorKidney.


Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.