A Guide to the Kidneys for People With Diabetes

Over 30 percent of adults with diabetes will develop kidney disease. Here’s your guide to these important organs.

Diabetes can damage the kidneys and cause the kidneys to stop working correctly.

Updated on November 7, 2023

The kidneys are a pair of organs located on either side of the spine, just below the rib cage. They remove waste and excess fluid from the blood, so it can be expelled in urine. They also help regulate blood pressure and make a hormone that the body needs to produce red blood cells. This makes the kidneys two of the most important organs in the body.

Diabetes is a chronic condition where the body cannot make enough insulin or effectively use the insulin it does make. Insulin is a hormone the body requires in order to use blood sugar (glucose), one of its primary sources of energy.

Diabetes can damage the kidneys and cause the kidneys to stop working correctly. While not everyone with diabetes will end up with kidney disease, the risk is certainly higher. Roughly 1 in 3 people with diabetes also have kidney disease.

Below are some key terms and phrases to help you understand the kidneys, which can be helpful when understanding how type 2 diabetes can impact the health of the kidneys.

Chronic kidney disease: CKD occurs when your kidneys are damaged to the point where they can no longer filter blood properly.

Diabetic kidney disease: A type of chronic kidney disease that’s caused by diabetes

Nephropathy: Deterioration of the kidneys and kidney function due to kidney disease, often caused by hypertension in people with diabetes

Renal: A term that refers to the kidneys. Renal failure means kidney failure.

Nephrons: The filtering units that make up the structure of the kidneys

Glomeruli: Blood vessels in the kidneys that filter blood to create urine

Vitamin D: A hormone created in the kidneys that helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, both of which are important to bone health

Erythropoietin: A hormone produced by the kidneys that helps make red blood cells

Hypertension: A condition marked by increased resistance to blood flow in the arteries. As a consequence, your heart has to pump harder to circulate blood, which results in high blood pressure or hypertension. People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure.

Dialysis: A procedure to remove waste from the body when the kidneys no longer function properly

Albumin: A protein made by the liver that helps carry nutrients throughout your body, maintain fluid levels, and keep you healthy

Urinary microalbumin test: When the kidneys stop working properly, proteins can leak from your kidneys into your urine. This test looks for albumin (blood protein) in your urine to detect signs of kidney damage.

Creatinine: Waste created by your muscles and filtered by your kidneys

Albumin/creatinine ratio: A method of detecting elevated protein levels

Glomerular filtration rate (GFR): A blood test to see how well your kidneys are working

End-stage renal disease (ESRD): The last stage of kidney disease in which your kidneys stop working, usually requiring long-term dialysis or a kidney transplant

Kidney failure: Another term for ESRD

If you have diabetes, it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider (HCP). Taking steps like controlling your blood sugar levels—as well as monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol—can help keep your kidneys as healthy as possible. These steps can also reduce other complications, such as cardiovascular problems.

Remember that your HCP will be your best source of information for treating diabetes and kidney problems. Talk to your HCP about your treatment options. There are several medications for people who have diabetes that can help protect the health of the kidneys and the heart.

Article sources open article sources

National Kidney Foundation. "Why Are the Kidneys So Important?"
Tim Newman. "Where are the kidneys located, what do they do, and what do they look like?"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What is Diabetes?"
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Diabetic Kidney Disease."
National Kidney Foundation. "Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Diabetic Nephropathy (Kidney Disease)."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Your Kidneys & How They Work."
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Vitamin D."
Cleveland Clinic. "Erythropoietin-Stimulating Agents."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Diabetes and High Blood Pressure."
NHS. "Dialysis."
Fresenius Kidney Care. "Nutrition Basics: What Is Albumin?"
Mayo Clinic. "Microalbumin test."
MedlinePlus. "Creatinine Test."
National Kidney Foundation. "ACR."
MedlinePlus. "Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) Test."
Johns Hopkins Health. "End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)."
American Kidney Foundation. "Kidney failure, end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) or end-stage renal disease (ESRD)."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "High Blood Pressure & Kidney Disease."
National Kidney Foundation. "High Cholesterol = High Kidney Disease Risk."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Diabetes, Heart Disease, & Stroke."
American Heart Association. "Newer Type 2 diabetes medications have heart and kidney disease benefits, too."
Mayo Clinic. "Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease)."

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