Understanding the Unexpected Connections between Diabetes and Kidney Disease

By Joseph Vassalotti, MD, Chief Medical Officer, The National Kidney Foundation

Diabetes is a serious condition, and while it is often discussed in the context of managing blood sugar levels, the condition poses life-threatening risks to other vital organs, including the heart and kidneys. In fact, type 2 diabetes (T2D) is the leading cause of kidney disease, which will affect approximately a third of T2D patients. Understanding the interconnectivity between these diseases is vital for healthcare professionals, patients and the larger medical community in order to help manage these diseases and potentially slow the progression of comorbid conditions.

As the largest, most comprehensive and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the US, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is a pioneer of scientific research and innovation, and focuses on the whole patient through the lens of kidney health. Relentless in our work, we enhance lives through action, education and accelerating innovation. We absolutely recognize the complex landscape diabetes patients often face when it comes to monitoring for and slowing the progression of conditions like kidney disease that can reduce quality of life. Given the complexities, it’s crucial to shed light on exactly how the conditions are related – and how to detect and address kidney disease as early as possible. One of the goals of treating diabetes should be to prevent the development of kidney disease or limit kidney disease severity.



Diabetes and its Impact on Kidney Health

While kidney disease is often under-recognized, it is an early and common complication of T2D. Diabetes can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease as well.

Most people with kidney disease do not have symptoms, and as a result, the disease can go undetected until their kidney function has significantly declined. Since the rate of diabetes in the US continues to rise—especially T2D, which is the most common form—and the disease is a major risk factor for kidney disease, it’s important for patients to talk to their healthcare professional to get their blood and urine tested regularly to determine how to effectively manage their diabetes and prevent the progression of kidney complications.



Earlier Engagement in Diabetes, Kidney Care and Interrelated Risks

Earlier intervention is particularly important because kidney damage can be irreversible and if kidney disease is not treated early, it can lead to kidney failure. Fortunately, no matter where a patient is in their disease progression, it’s not too late to make a change that can have a positive impact on outcomes.

Innovative T2D therapies have been recently recognized as important treatment options that not only manage blood sugar, but also offer substantial protection against the progression of cardiovascular and kidney disease in patients with diabetes. The latest research and scientific advancements contribute to important recommendations and guidelines about preventing or slowing kidney disease progression and help advance the conversation about kidney disease, diabetes and heart disease to the forefront. By taking a comprehensive approach to managing these connected disease areas, we can work to prevent the complications of these diseases and improve the lives of people living with T2D.



Making Transformational Science and Kidney Disease Education Mainstream

Prioritizing awareness and education among patients and the medical community is an important focus area for NKF. We actively partner and engage with stakeholders across the healthcare community, including industry partners, who are fueled by the same passion and urgency to combat kidney disease as we are. Companies like AstraZeneca are leading the way by not only researching and assessing innovative pathways to target kidney, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, but by supporting educational efforts to ensure patients have the tools they need to live well.

We are excited that so many organizations are working to reduce the burden of diabetes and kidney disease and we hope our collective and relentless pursuit to educate and accelerate change will empower more people to actively engage with their care team and learn more about how to prevent and slow the progression of diabetes complications.

To support these efforts, the NKF will debut a Facebook Live series in June, supported by AstraZeneca, which will feature conversations that connect kidney, metabolic and cardiovascular disease to help increase awareness and address the serious and interrelated risks these diseases pose.

About the National Kidney Foundation

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the US. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.