Kidney disease and diabetes

doctor with picture of kidneys

Kidney disease and diabetes are two serious diseases that can affect older adults. Read on to learn more about these diseases, what you should look for, and what you can do about them.

The kidneys

Your kidneys play a very important role in keeping you healthy. These two bean-shaped, fist-sized organs are located in the middle of your back, on either side of the spine.

Their main job is to filter your blood to remove wastes that could damage your body. They also help to control blood pressure and make hormones that your body needs to stay healthy.

How the kidneys work

Each kidney contains about one million tiny filters called nephrons. Inside each nephron are tiny blood vessels and urine collecting tubes. Most people develop kidney disease when the nephrons can no longer filter blood as well as they used to. Damage usually happens slowly, over many years. As more and more filters fail, the kidneys eventually are unable to keep the body healthy. At that point, either dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed.

No symptoms at first

Early kidney disease has no symptoms, which means you can’t feel if you have it. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have early kidney disease.

Proper treatment can help prevent further kidney damage and slow the progression of kidney disease. The earlier kidney disease is found, the sooner you can take medications and other steps that can keep your kidneys healthier longer.

Risk factors for kidney disease

You should be tested for kidney disease if you have any risk factors, such as:

If you are at risk for kidney disease, there are steps to take to help protect your kidneys:

  • Manage your diabetes
  • Keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg
  • Take medicines as prescribed.


If your body is unable to use blood sugar (called “glucose”) the way it should, you have diabetes. A healthy body uses glucose for the energy it needs to do everything it does, including make new cells. If the cells of the body can’t use glucose the way they should, the glucose level increases to an abnormal level, causing damage to the kidneys, eyes, feet, heart, and other parts of the body. Almost 21 million Americans have some form of diabetes — and 6.2 million of them are undiagnosed. That’s why it’s so crucial to detect and treat diabetes—or better yet, to prevent it.

Both kidney disease and diabetes are key areas of research for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at NIH. The institute carries out research at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and also funds the work of researchers around the world.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, formerly called “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes,” is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. Treatment for type 1 diabetes typically includes taking insulin shots or using an insulin pump, making healthy food choices, exercising regularly, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Type 2 diabetes

Once called “adult-onset diabetes” because only adults got it, type 2 diabetes is now a problem for some children as well. It is one of the fastest-growing conditions in Americans of all ages. Those people at most risk of getting type 2 diabetes include:

people who are 45 years of age or older

those who are overweight or obese

people who don’t get enough exercise

those who have close relatives who have type 2 diabetes

people of American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander decent.

Treatment typically includes taking diabetes medicines, making healthy food choices, exercising regularly, taking aspirin daily, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and the possible use of oral or injected insulin.

Information courtesy of National Institutes of Health (NIH) MedlinePlus and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Click HERE to read our medical disclaimer.