The month of March is Kidney Awareness Month; however the Kidney Foundation of Canada likes to call it Kidney Health Month!

"It's really about the fact that our kidneys are as vital to our health and well-being as your heart or your lungs," shares Greg Unger, Executive Director of the Manitoba Chapter of the Kidney Foundation of Canada.  "I think they're kind of under-appreciated in terms of what they do.  They filter all of the blood in the body. They balance potassium and sodium. They're removing waste products and excess water through your urine and so kidneys are doing so many things that we maybe take for granted."

"And then suddenly there is this thing called 'kidney disease' that comes along, and that's a broad word that can have a variety of severities," he adds. "And so, you could go from stage 1 to stage 5, mild to severe, and then at stage 5 that's when we call it 'end stage kidney disease'."

"Kidney disease attacks the filtering units of the kidneys, and they damage their ability to eliminate that waste and excess fluid and so when people have kidney failure, they retain too much of that waste and it gets into your body, and it can make you very sick."

"But in the early stages, for the most part," he notes, "the body compensates for reduced kidney function and so kidney disease can actually go undetected. And many people only realize they have a problem once it's quite advanced.  This is very serious, because by the time you get symptoms, and those symptoms are similar to other diseases, you might already be nearing kidney failure."  

Here are a few facts to share:

· As many as 1 in 10 adults in Manitoba are living with kidney disease, and most don’t even know it

· Kidneys can lose 80% of their function before any symptoms are felt

Symptoms can include low energy, fatigue, reduced appetite, less frequency of urination, swelling in your feet or hands. You may develop other problems like high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones, poor nutritional health, or nerve damage.

Unger says while these symptoms could be the result of many things, they could mean that you could be on the brink of kidney failure, and you don't know it.  "People don't tend to get really, really sick with kidney disease until their kidney function is down to 10-15% and so it happens somewhat silently."

Kidney disease is classified into five stages:

Stage 1 indicates normal kidney function up to stage 5, which is kidney failure. Because symptoms don’t always show in the early stages, identifying and managing patients with early kidney disease may slow or prevent the progression to end-stage kidney disease. Often, noninvasive treatments, such as drug therapy and lifestyle changes, may be all that’s needed if caught early.

"You can prevent the condition from getting worse," says Unger," but kidney damage can't be reversed. It can be slowed down, and I think that's the important piece."

Anyone can get kidney disease, but some people have a higher probability because they have one or more risk factors.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common reasons for kidney disease among adults. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, having heart disease, frequent use of kidney-damaging drugs, or a family history of kidney disease.

Having a risk factor does not mean you will get kidney disease, but it increases your chance and makes early screening more important. A simple blood or urine test is all that is needed to learn if your kidneys are healthy.

How do you know if you have healthy or unhealthy kidneys?  How do you stop the progression if you're in the first 4 stages?

Because the symptoms are similar to other things, folks are encouraged to be proactive in their health, and to ask their doctor for routine screenings through a urine and/or a blood test.  Talk to your healthcare provider about kidney disease. To learn more about kidney disease and to take a self-screen test to see if you are at risk, visit

Water, Water, Water!

Something to note is that drinking water is the ideal way to flush your entire body but especially your kidneys.  Liquids high in sugar and salts actually stress your kidneys and play against the flushing of your system by creating 'sticky blood' that causes blockages and reduces the amount of blood that can get through your body the way it's supposed to.

"Reducing salt and sugar in your diet, no matter how that comes into your body, that allows your body to keep moving," says Unger. "The reason why diabetes and high blood pressure and kidney function are all connected is because it's a vascular disease; it has to do with how your blood is able to move through your body."

Please listen to more with Greg Unger below!

The Kidney Foundation has an online virtual forum running March 6-7 where folks can register and get in on all kinds of presentations and learn more information for those living with kidney disease, or someone in your family is dealing with kidney disease and you need more information, or if you're concerned about your own health and are wanting to learn more about kidney disease.

Visit for more on the virtual forum!