Diabetic nephropathy is a serious kidney-related complication of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. It is also called diabetic kidney disease. Up to 40 percent of people with diabetes eventually develop kidney disease.
Diabetic nephropathy affects the ability of your kidneys to do their usual work of removing waste products and extra fluid from your body. The best way to prevent or delay diabetic nephropathy is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and treating your diabetes and high blood pressure.
Over many years, the condition slowly damages your kidneys’ delicate filtering system. Early treatment may prevent or slow disease progression and reduce the chance of complications.
Your kidney disease may progress to kidney failure, also called end-stage kidney disease. Kidney failure is a life-threatening condition. At this stage your treatment options are dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Symptoms and causes
In the early stages of diabetic nephropathy, you may not notice any signs or symptoms. In later stages, the signs and symptoms include:
- Worsening blood pressure control
- Protein in the urine
- Swelling of feet, ankles, hands or eyes
- Increased need to urinate
- Less need for insulin or diabetes medicine
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent itching
How the kidneys work
Your kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters (glomeruli) that filter waste from your blood. Severe damage to these blood vessels can lead to diabetic nephropathy, decreased kidney function and kidney failure.
Diabetic nephropathy causes
Diabetic nephropathy is a common complication of diabetes, types 1 and 2.
Over time the high blood sugar associated with untreated diabetes causes high blood pressure. This in turn damages the kidneys by increasing the pressure in the delicate filtering system of the kidneys.
Several factors may increase your risk of diabetic nephropathy, including:
- Diabetes, type 1 or 2
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) that’s difficult to control
- High blood pressure (hypertension) that’s difficult to control
- Being a smoker and having diabetes
- High blood cholesterol and having diabetes
- A family history of diabetes and kidney disease
Complications of diabetic nephropathy may develop gradually over months or years. They may include:
- Fluid retention, which could lead to swelling in your arms and legs, high blood pressure, or fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema)
- A sudden rise in potassium levels in your blood (hyperkalemia)
- Heart and blood vessel disease (cardiovascular disease), possibly leading to stroke
- Damage to the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy)
- Foot sores, erectile dysfunction, diarrhea and other problems related to damaged nerves and blood vessels
- Pregnancy complications that carry risks for the mother and the developing fetus
- Irreversible damage to your kidneys (end-stage kidney disease), eventually requiring either dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival