Your kidneys are critical to your health


Your kidneys are vital to your survival as they filter toxins and produce important chemicals in your body. Unfortunately, kidney disease often goes undetected (nine out of 10 people with kidney disease don't know they have it). This is because many people whose kidneys do not work properly, do not develop symptoms until their kidneys are close to failing.

The first week of September marks Kidney Awareness Week in South Africa. We're here to support you to look after your kidneys in the best possible way and empower you to know when seek medical attention. We have an added threat to our kidneys and that is COVID-19. According to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, acute kidney injury is one of the most frequent and most severe organ complications in severe COVID-19.

What is kidney disease?

Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys do not function optimally as they should. The kidneys are responsible for excreting waste products, for electrolyte balance and for the production of certain hormones in the body. Kidney disease can be present from birth (congenital) or it can develop as a result of high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, COVID-19 or ageing.

Symptoms that might be an indication of kidney disease

Please visit a doctor if you experience these symptoms:

  • Fatigue and sleeping problems
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Frequent urination or a change in how much you urinate
  • Blood or foam in your urine
  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • Puffy eyes
  • No appetite
  • Cramping or twitching muscles
  • Chronic nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of mental sharpness
  • Uncontrollable high blood pressure

What is the South African kidney disease landscape?

As many as 1 in 10 adults are affected by chronic kidney disease globally. As with the rest of the world, there is also a rise in chronic kidney disease in South Africa. A study done in Cape Town reported that 17.3% of the South African population has a kidney condition.

Compared to other countries in Africa and in spite of challenges, South Africa is at the forefront of providing comprehensive kidney care. Discovery Health Medical Scheme, for example, offers the Kidney Care Programme to help those with chronic kidney disease manage the condition better.

5 ways to look after your kidneys

  • Be active. Exercise for 30 minutes five days a week - a brisk walk is sufficient.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet of unprocessed, fresh foods with no more than a teaspoon of added salt per day.
  • Check and control your blood sugar. Learn more about the Discovery Vitality Health Check here.
  • Check and control your blood pressure.This measure is also included as part of the Vitality Health Check screening.
  • Drink an appropriate amount of fluids. You must adjust your fluid intake if you have kidney, heart or liver disease - ask your doctor.
  • Don't smoke as smoking slows the flow of blood to the kidneys.
  • Don't take over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory pills regularly. Long term, frequent use of medicine, like ibuprofen, can harm your kidneys.
  • Get your kidney function checked if you have any of the 'high risk' factors, such as:
    • Diabetes
    • High blood pressure
    • A family history of kidney disease
    • Being overweight or obese

Learn more about Discovery's support for kidney health

Having kidney disease can be a challenge for both the patient and those around them. Living with chronic kidney disease is a lifelong journey, often made difficult because of the need for regular care, complex medicine, restrictive diets, and many tests and investigations.

If you are diagnosed with kidney disease, ask your doctor to help you apply for cover on the Chronic Illness Benefit, which will pay for your approved treatment.

If you need chronic dialysis, join the Kidney Care Programme

We designed the Kidney Care Programme to make it easier for members on chronic dialysis to manage their condition by getting the best quality of care and quality of life.

You get:

  • A calendar-based schedule for blood tests
  • Yearly reports based on these tests and other clinical information to help manage your condition
  • An information booklet to help you better understand and manage your condition

Related articles

Living well this World Kidney Day

We celebrate World Kidney Day on 11 March and this year's theme is "Living well with kidney disease". The goal is to highlight kidney health for everyone, everywhere. If you or a close family member or friend is diagnosed with kidney disease, it can be a challenge for both the patient and those around them. It's important that we understand more about kidney disease and how we can support those who are managing a chronic kidney condition.

Imagine a test that could identify your risk of chronic kidney disease early

Patients with kidney conditions may never meet the doctor who could have the most impact on their health. Dr Siyabonga Khoza works behind the scenes in a laboratory and his research focuses on identifying the risk of chronic kidney disease sooner.


Beating the kidney dialysis odds

Brian Anderson, is a minor walking miracle. He's had 93 operations, including two kidney transplants and been on intermittent dialysis for 22 years. He's passionate about raising awareness around Chronic Kidney Disease and organ donation.

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