Do you know someone struggling with failing kidneys or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESLD) who is on dialysis or waiting for a transplantable replacement organ? Odds are you do.
The 2018 Annual Data report from the U.S. Renal (Kidney) Data System (USRDS) revealed that kidney failure severe enough to require dialysis or a kidney transplant operation ranks among the highest in the world.
This debilitating condition is known as End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), and it is gaining ground. Before the ESRD, many patients experience the gradual loss of kidney function, called chronic kidney disease (CKD).
The kidneys lose their ability to filter waste and excess fluids from the blood for excretion in urine. Unflushed electrolytes and wastes can accumulate in the body and cause extreme harm.
In just two days, either or both of our kidneys can stop working. This sudden reduction or halt to the body’s liquid waste removal is called acute kidney injury or acute renal failure (ARF). This serious health condition is typically brought on by:
- Heart attack
- Illegal drug use and drug abuse
- Not enough blood flowing to the kidneys
- Urinary tract problems
Barring other serious health problems, many patients of ARF find that their kidneys return to normal (or nearly) with treatment. This is usually not the case with chronic kidney failure that has developed over a long time.
There are many symptoms of CKD. Unfortunately, these signs of kidney failure are nonspecific, which means that other illnesses may cause them. This makes identifying the kidneys as the source of the problem difficult.
Complicating matters is that the kidneys adapt to lost function and attempt to soldier on as best they can. By the time they are no longer able to do their job, irreversible damage often has occurred.
As of 2018, CKD afflicts 15 percent of American adults – over 30 million people. Millions of others are at high risk of getting CKD because they have associated medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
What most people don’t know is that many of the underlying causes of kidney disease can be prevented – or at least slowed down. In the U.S., the two leading causes of kidney failure are Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes and high blood pressure.
Weight loss and regular exercise can help both diabetics and patients with elevated blood pressure levels. In addition, there are prescription drugs available to treat these medical conditions.
ESRD is diagnosed when approximately 90 percent of kidney function has stopped working. People who experience nausea, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, confusion, difficulty concentrating or loss of appetite should seek professional help and get blood and urine tests to analyze their kidneys’ health.
There are only three options available for patients with ESRD: a kidney transplant, dialysis, or death.
The National Kidney Foundation advises patients with ESRD to get on the kidney transplant list which is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The upside to this strategy is that a replacement kidney will prolong life. The downside is that it won’t cure ESRD.
Another challenge is that it can take three to five years on the waitlist before a suitable kidney can be provided for implantation. Factors that prolong the waiting time include:
- Blood types O and B
- Prior pregnancies
- Blood transfusions
- Previous transplants
In August 2017, the Millman Research Report estimated that 16,804 kidney transplants were performed in the U.S.
Kidney transplants are costly, but Medicare Part B will cover 80% of the cost of pre-operative immunosuppressant drugs. Employer group and private health insurance may cover some, but not all, expenses associated with getting a replacement organ.
Health insurance (including Medicare) will often cover a kidney transplant, but may well exceed the annual out-of-pocket maximum. The patient must pay the rest, in addition to expenses not covered by copays and coinsurance.
Without health insurance, a kidney transplant can cost “$260,000 or more for the pre-transplant screening, donor matching, surgery, post-surgical care and the first six months of drugs. Afterward, it costs about $17,000 a year for anti-rejection drugs.”
Another source, Vimo.com, pegs the average list price for a kidney transplant at $143,500. The average negotiated price through a health insurer is about $33,500.
It is clear that preventing kidney disease and avoiding a kidney transplant operation is the preferred way to go. Pay attention to your body’s signs and symptoms. Seek professional help if you suspect your kidneys are underperforming.
Above all, avoid being put on the kidney transplant waitlist. Be proactive with your health and beat the odds.