kidney cross section
Kidney Disease
Kidney Health

How Healthy Are Your Kidneys?

Editor’s note: Keeping your kidneys healthy is a crucial issue for millions of people. Here, from the experts at the National Institute of Digestive and Diabetes and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), one of the National Institutes of Health, is what you need to know.

The steps you take to keep your kidneys healthy help the rest of your body too. Talk to your health care provider to find out the steps that are right for you. If you are at risk for kidney disease, the most important steps you can take to keep your kidneys healthy are getting your blood and urine checked for kidney disease and managing your diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

To help your kidneys stay healthy:

Keep your blood pressure at the target set by your health care provider. For most people, the blood pressure target is less than 140/90 mm Hg. This can delay or prevent kidney failure.

If you have diabetes, control your blood glucose level.

Keep your cholesterol levels in the target range.

Take medicines the way your provider tells you to. (Certain blood pressure medicines called ACE inhibitors and ARBs may protect your kidneys. Ask your health care provider for more information.)

Cut back on salt. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Click here for advice from ThirdAGE on how to reduce your salt habit.

Choose foods that are healthy for your heart: fresh fruits, fresh or frozen vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods.

Limit your alcohol intake.

Be more physically active.

Lose weight if you are overweight.

If you smoke, take steps to quit. Cigarette smoking can make kidney damage worse.


Early kidney disease usually does not have signs (a change in your body) or symptoms (a change in how you feel). Testing is the only way to know how your kidneys are doing. It is important for you to get checked for kidney disease if you have the key risk factors – diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure.

Two tests are needed to check for kidney disease.

  1. A blood test checks your GFR, which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. GFR stands for glomerular (glow-MAIR-you-lure) filtration rate.
  2. A urine test checks for albumin in your urine. Albumin is a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged.

It is also important to have your blood pressure checked. High blood pressure can be a sign of kidney disease. Keep your blood pressure at or below the target set by your health care provider. For most people, the blood pressure target is less than 140/90 mm Hg.

When you see your provider, ask:

What is my GFR?

What is my urine albumin result?

What is my blood pressure?

What is my blood glucose (for people with diabetes)?