High blood pressure and kidney disease often go hand in hand. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) ranks high blood pressure as the second leading cause of kidney failure. Diabetes is the first.
High blood pressure and kidney disease are common. According to the NIDDK, almost half of all American adults have high blood pressure. More than one in seven may have chronic kidney disease.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Your heart pumps blood throughout the body through your arteries. Blood returns to the heart through your veins.
Blood pressure is the force at which blood moves through the blood vessels. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is an increase in that force.
When blood pressure is high, it means your heart is working too hard. The increase in blood pressure can damage your blood vessels, leading to narrowed vessels with reduced blood flow. The combination of high pressure and narrowed arteries can lead to damage to your heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys, as well as sexual dysfunction.
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How Do Kidneys Work?
You have two kidneys, which are bean-shaped organs located on either side of your spine. They consist of tiny units called nephrons.
The nephrons filter waste products and excess fluid from the blood. They also regulate hormones, acids, and salts in the body.
Healthy kidneys filter about half a cup of blood every minute. The waste and fluid make urine, which flows into the bladder.
How Are High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease Connected?
Over time, high blood pressure can narrow, weaken, and harden blood vessels throughout the body.
In your kidneys, capillaries supply the nephrons with blood from the arteries. When the arteries and capillaries become damaged, the nephrons don’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients to filter the blood.
The kidneys also help regulate blood pressure. If they become damaged, a vicious cycle begins. The kidneys can’t control blood pressure and continued high blood pressure causes more damage to the kidneys.
What Are Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” because it has few symptoms. Most people can’t tell they have it. That’s why it’s important to check your blood pressure on a regular basis.
What Are Symptoms of Kidney Disease?
Like high blood pressure, early stage kidney disease has few symptoms.
“Kidney disease is a silent disease,” says Manisha Jhamb, MD, MPH, a nephrologist with UPMC. “A lot of people don’t really feel that they have any symptoms until the kidney disease is very, very advanced.”
As kidney disease gets worse, you may notice swelling (edema) in your legs, feet, ankles, hands, or face. Other symptoms of advanced kidney disease include:
- Low appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Blood in the urine
- Extreme sleepiness
- Changes in urination (decreased or increased)
- Itchy, numb, or dry skin.
Can I Reverse Kidney Disease From High Blood Pressure?
By the time you notice symptoms of kidney disease, the damage to your kidneys is usually irreversible. Prevention is the best approach — living a healthy lifestyle and getting regular checkups with your doctor.
If you already have kidney disease, you may be able to slow the damage by controlling your blood pressure. Here are some ways to get your blood pressure down to a healthy level.
It’s important to know the risk factors for high blood pressure. Here are some simple lifestyle changes that can improve your blood pressure.
- Quit smoking
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Cut down on salt
- Improve your sleep habits
- Learn to manage stress
- Limit alcohol
- Keep your weight at a healthy level
- Increase your daily activity
Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medicine in addition to lifestyle changes. Blood pressure medicine can slow the progression of kidney disease. There are many different types of blood pressure medicine. Some examples are:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Diuretic (medicine that helps kidneys remove fluid from the blood)
Seeing your doctor on a regular basis is an important step in controlling blood pressure and managing kidney disease.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
American Heart Association, How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Kidney Damage or Failure. Link
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease. Link
American Kidney Fund, Are You at Risk? High Blood Pressure. Link
Centers for Disease Control, Keep Your Kidneys Healthy – Control Your Blood Pressure. Link
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