By Dr. Pradeep V. Kadambi

Today is World Kidney Day and a great opportunity to highlight our hardworking organs.

Did you know nearly 26 million American adults have chronic kidney disease, but only about half of them are aware of it? It’s true. The reason it often goes undiagnosed is because most people may not have any symptoms until their kidney disease is fairly advanced.

Lack of energy, poor appetite and nausea are some of the common symptoms of advanced CKD. It is very important to note that even people with advanced CKD may make normal amounts of urine, which can often be misleading.

It’s easy to find out if you have CKD by testing your blood and urine. Hence, a regular physical exam is necessary, especially after age 40.

So, what exactly is CKD? Simply put, it’s a condition where the kidneys are damaged and lose the ability to keep you healthy.

As kidney disease gets worse, body waste can build up in your blood and make you feel sick by creating a host of health problems. Problems caused by CKD typically happen slowly during a long period of time.

CKD may be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, old age and other disorders. As it progresses, CKD may eventually lead to kidney failure, also called end-stage kidney disease, which requires either dialysis or a kidney transplant to sustain life.

Early detection is extremely important to prevent progression of CKD to kidney failure. Again, diabetes and high blood pressure, two very widespread diseases, are the most common reasons for CKD.

CKD also is a risk factor for heart and blood vessel disease.

Taking care of your overall health will help protect the kidneys. Good practices include exercising regularly; maintaining a low-salt diet; controlling weight; monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels; not smoking; drinking moderately; avoiding medications such as Motrin and Ibuprofen; and getting an annual physical exam, especially after age 40.

Here are my top five things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy:

• exercise regularly and eat healthy

• have an annual physical exam

• if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions

• avoid regular use of medications that may harm your kidneys 

• ask your primary care physician if it is necessary to see a kidney doctor.

Remember, even if you have CKD, if properly managed, you can lead a normal, active and healthy life.

Dr. Pradeep V. Kadambi is associate professor and medical director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.