Why Employers Need to Talk About Common Kidney Diseases at Work

Posted by Seraine Page on Mon, Feb, 24, 2020

kidneyBelieve it or not, only 10% of the people who have kidney disease know it.

Considering 30 million Americans are impacted by it, that’s a big problem. Some may even be your employees who come into work daily with no symptoms to show.

One in particular — Chronic Kidney Disease — can be particularly tough on employees and could result in extended time off of work.

Chronic Kidney Disease causes the body to shut down in numerous ways and can lead to weak bones, nerve damage, and kidney failure. Since March is National Kidney Month, there’s no better time to begin an awareness campaign.

Most importantly, two affordable tests can diagnose most common kidney diseases.

This post will cover kidney disease risk factors and how to reduce risk of developing kidney disease.

What Do Healthy Kidneys Do?

At the bottom of the rib cage on either side of the spine sit the two kidneys about the size of human fists. While small, these organs play a huge role in your health:


  • Regulate potassium, pH, salt, blood pressure
  • Assist with red blood cell production
  • Help the body absorb calcium
  • Filter toxins, excess water, and other waste from the blood

But when these two small organs aren’t functioning properly, your body can have a tough time producing the proper hormones and removing waste. When kidneys no longer remove blood waste, kidney failure kicks in.

Chronic Kidney Disease Causes + Other Kidney Issues

Kidney disease impacts one in seven adults in the United States. One of the most common kidney diseases is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) — a long-term condition. While the most severe, it’s not the only kidney disease or problem the kidneys can have.

Kidney disease issues include:

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition where your kidneys aren’t filtering toxins properly. This may lead to dialysis and the need for a kidney transplant. It’s most often caused by diabetes and high blood pressure. Other risk factors include a family history and cardiovascular disease.
  • Glomerulonephritis is a form of kidney disease that is often caused by infections, drugs, or may happen during or shortly after birth. This type of kidney disease is generally not serious and usually gets better on its own.
  • Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that can be serious and cause kidney failure by the production of many cysts in the kidneys.

Who is Most Likely to Develop CKD?

Researchers have been able to pinpoint certain populations who may be at risk. It’s no surprise that CKD is also linked to other major health issues.

You may be at risk if:

  • You have high blood pressure
  • You suffer from diabetes
  • You live with heart disease
  • You have a family history of CKD

Other kidney health concerns include, kidney cysts, kidney stones, and kidney infections. By getting regular blood work done and keeping an eye on your blood pressure and maintaining a healthy diet, you can cut your risk of kidney issues down.

Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Unfortunately, kidney disease may progress to failure without any symptoms. Anyone in the risk categories can get tested starting at age 18 (or sooner, if required).

Like other health issues, it may not present symptoms until very progressed. Then it may come as a shock as to how quickly it becomes severe. Or, it may take many years to develop.

Early symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cramps
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Swelling of ankles and feet
  • Poor sleep
  • Late night frequent urination
  • Reduced appetite
  • Puffy eyes upon waking up
  • Dry or scaly skin

Severe symptoms that may indicate kidney failure include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced urine output
  • Swelling in legs, ankles, and feet
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain

Testing For and Treating Kidney Disease

For those at high risk, lab tests are critical since there are often no symptoms of CKD. Blood tests will show levels of the waste product creatinine. High levels of this in the blood may indicate kidney problems.

If blood tests are abnormal, the estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) is calculated to provide a more thorough indication of kidney function and the progression of CKD. This test shows whether you have blood or protein in your urine, often an early indication of kidney issues.

There are a few ways to reduce and treat kidney disease:

  • Know your risk - High-risk individuals can minimize chances of kidney failure by treating the underlying conditions like diabetes and blood pressure.
  • Take care of your health - Early detection, a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, along with doctor-prescribed medications can all help mitigate risk factors and slow the progression of the disease.
  • Understand dialysis is a late-stage treatment - This is how your blood is filtered artificially. Once on dialysis, most patients have no other treatment options other than a transplant.
  • Transplant wait lists are long - Unfortunately, the waiting list for compatible kidney transplants are long. Not everyone is a candidate and the surgery might not work. But if successful, dialysis is no longer needed.

Educate Everyone on the Most Common Kidney Diseases

During National Kidney Month, employers have the chance to learn more about the most common kidney diseases. It’s also a perfect time to educate employees about risk factors like high blood pressure that can lead to CKD.

Because it impacts so many individuals in American unknowingly, your education materials during National Kidney Month could truly be a lifesaver.

If your wellness committee hasn’t set up any wellness initiatives around diabetes or high blood pressure, now is the time to consider folding those topics in. The correlation to kidney disease is the perfect tie-in for touching on those health issues.

A few ways to educate:

  • Share informational videos - Short videos that discuss the topic of kidney health and the risk of disease can be helpful. Share in health-related meetings or via email.
  • Print and post infographics - The American Kidney Fund has some colorful and eye-catching infographics that are easy to share with your employees. Consider printing off the 5 Myths & Facts About Kidney Disease one for an attention-grabbing display.
  • Check out the National Kidney Month toolkit - Gather everything you need from flyers to social media ideas to engage your employees in all-about-the-kidneys content. Find the toolkit here.
  • Review FMLA - This would also be an opportunity to review and share the rules surrounding the Family and Medical Leave Act  (FMLA). This act allows employees to take off up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off within a 12-month period for certain health conditions — dialysis treatment would potentially fall under this.

Overall, helping your employees maintain optimum health can potentially prevent a devastating health issue like kidney disease. Providing monthly resources, time to de-stress, and comprehensive health benefits is just one of the stepping stones to guiding your employees to a higher quality of life.

Encourage your employees to live their best lives today and every day. Check out our free guide The Employee Wellness Project for expert advice on helping employees stay healthy.

Employee Wellness Handbook

Topics: Wellness at Work


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