The Effect of Diabetes on Kidney Problems

June 07,2023 |
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There are roughly 37 million Americans currently living with diabetes and 1 in 3 of those adults either has or will develop kidney disease during their life. Although several other factors come into play and not everyone with diabetes will experience urologic issues, the risks are significantly increased. But why? Here, we’ll explore the relationship between the two and the effect of diabetes on kidney problems.


Understanding Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how an individual processes glucose, which is used as fuel for all cells within the body. There are several types of diabetes, but the two most common are type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system begins to attack and destroy cells that produce insulin within the pancreas. Insulin is an essential hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels; without it, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and has a number of cascading effects on the body.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder where, over time, the body becomes resistant to insulin or slowly stops producing enough insulin to regulate blood sugar adequately. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with lifestyle changes and may even be reversible thanks to new research on weight loss management.


How Diabetes Affects the Body

When a person has diabetes, they can no longer regulate blood sugar levels on their own. The accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream can lead to several problems, especially regarding the blood vessels and nerves. This can result in kidney problems, vision loss, nerve damage, and cardiovascular disease. Although proper management of diabetes can reduce the risk of these types of complications, individuals who have been living with diabetes for years may eventually experience one or more minor complications.


The Connection Between Diabetes and Kidney Problems

As mentioned, diabetes impacts the body's blood vessels, nerves, and other organs. Since your kidneys function using an intricate network of tiny blood vessels, it’s understandable why kidney disease is more prevalent in those with diabetes. The high sugar levels in the bloodstream can lead to narrowing blood vessels or clogs within the kidney’s filtration system. Over time, this damage can cause the kidneys to lose their ability to filter waste products and excess fluid from the blood. When the kidneys don’t filter blood efficiently, it can result in serious health problems, like end-stage renal disease (ESRD).


What to Know About Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the name of long-term kidney disease. It’s also often referred to as diabetic kidney disease, (DKD), kidney disease of diabetes, or diabetic nephropathy. CKD is marked by the gradual loss of kidney function over time. It’s a slow and progressive condition that may start with few symptoms. However, the sooner it’s found, the sooner treatment can be administered to help avoid end-stage renal disease.

In addition to diabetes, CKD can be caused by high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, genetic conditions, and infections. As CKD progresses, symptoms may include fatigue, weakness, nausea, swelling in the legs and feet, difficulty concentrating, and decreased urine output. If you notice any of these, seek medical attention immediately and work closely with your doctor to undergo preventative screenings if you’re living with diabetes.


Other Urologic Complications of Diabetes

In addition to chronic kidney disease, people with diabetes are at increased risk of developing other urologic problems, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and acute kidney injury. Diabetes can also impact bladder function and cause problems such as urinary incontinence, difficulty emptying the bladder, and bladder infections. These complications can impact a person's quality of life, but the sooner they’re diagnosed, the easier they are to manage.


Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a common urologic condition in people with diabetes characterized by involuntary urine leakage. It disproportionately affects women, but men with diabetes may also experience it. Incontinence occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the nerves and muscles in the bladder, making voluntary urine control difficult.


Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

People with diabetes are also at an increased risk of developing UTIs—urinary tract infections caused by bacteria. UTIs can cause pain, discomfort, and frequent urination. Although they can be frustrating, UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. They may also be prevented with proper hygiene care.


Sexual Dysfunction

Diabetes may also eventually cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels essential for both male and female sexual function. As a result, people with diabetes may experience problems such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and decreased libido.


Bladder Problems

Finally, diabetes may impact the nerves in the bladder, resulting in further complications. Some common bladder issues in individuals with diabetes include urinary retention and increased urinary frequency.


Diagnosing and Treating Kidney Problems in People with Diabetes

If you’re living with diabetes, it’s crucial to manage it proactively and diligently to avoid kidney-related issues or other health complications. However, if you notice any symptoms of urologic conditions, changes in bathroom habits, or other worrying symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Diagnosing and treating kidney-related issues will likely involve a combination of monitoring, lifestyle changes, and medical interventions.


Ongoing Monitoring

Since chronic kidney disease can have no symptoms in the early stages, it’s important to undergo regular kidney function tests to check for signs of damage. This typically involves a blood test to measure levels of creatinine and other waste products, as well as a urinalysis to check for the presence of protein or other abnormalities.


Managing Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for kidney problems in people with diabetes. Therefore, managing blood pressure should be a huge part of preventing and treating kidney problems. This may involve lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and blood pressure medications prescribed by your doctor.


Diabetes Management

Diabetes management is the number one way to help reduce your risk of complications, including urologic ones. Always follow your doctor’s treatment plan and take any diabetes medications or insulin as needed. If you have any questions or are experiencing signs of diabetes distress, see your doctor immediately.



In some cases, medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) may be prescribed to slow the progression of kidney disease in people with diabetes.


Dialysis or Kidney Transplant

In severe or advanced cases of kidney disease or end-stage renal disease, dialysis or kidney transplant may be necessary to manage the condition and maintain overall health.


How to Prevent Kidney Problems When Living with Diabetes

If you’re diligent about your diabetes management, you can drastically reduce your risk of developing kidney problems. Preventative measures will include lifestyle changes, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and ensuring that your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range.


Eat a Healthy Diet

One of the best ways to help prevent kidney problems when living with diabetes is to eat a healthy diet. This should include reducing the intake of sodium, saturated, and trans fats, and increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.


Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, manage blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of several urologic problems. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.


Quit Smoking

Smoking can increase the risk of kidney problems in people with or without diabetes. If you smoke, talk to a healthcare provider about strategies for quitting.


Manage Diabetes

Always be proactive about managing your diabetes, as high blood sugar levels will eventually damage the blood vessels throughout your body. It's essential to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range through diet, exercise, and medication if your doctor prescribes it.

See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms of kidney disease or other urologic issues. For the management of temporary or chronic urologic issues and diabetes, Byram Healthcare is here. We carry a wide selection of high-quality urologic products and diabetes products to help you take back control of your life. To learn more, or to speak with a professional, contact Byram Healthcare today.

Byram Healthcare is a member of the National Association for Continence’s Trusted Partners Program, whose mission is to provide quality continence care through education, collaboration and advocacy. We continue to build partnerships in the clinical community to ensure we focus on what’s best for the patient.