In 2009 Julia Frew received “shocking” news that put a wet blanket on her 17th birthday celebrations.
The Wentworthville resident was diagnosed with lupus nephritis, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy tissue.
“My immune system attacks my healthy kidneys. I take medication twice a day to suppress it,” she said.
“Most people don’t know what lupus is, and I hadn’t either when I was first diagnosed.”
Kidney disease kills more people each year than breast cancer, prostate cancer or even road traffic accidents, according to Kidney Health Australia (KHA).
One in 10 Australians have indicators of chronic kidney disease, yet less than 10 per cent of those know they have the condition.
Chronic kidney disease is often called a ‘silent disease’ as there are frequently no warning signs, and it can be common for people to lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before experiencing any symptoms.
The 25-year-old said in her case, to measure the health of her kidneys, it’s only detectable through a kidney biopsy.
“It’s really important that people are aware of the warning signs in a healthy body,” Ms Frew said.
Dr Richard Phoon, senior staff specialist in nephrology at Westmead Hospital, said due to one third of Australians being at increased risk of developing kidney disease, he hopes people take action to protect their kidney health and clearly identify the symptoms.
“The symptoms and causes of kidney disease are often not appreciated in the general community which presents a significant challenge in early detection of the disease,” he said.
“If detected early, the otherwise inevitable deterioration in kidney function and associated increased risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced by as much as 50 per cent and may even be reversible.”
Tips for preventing kidney disease:
- Know the risk factors: Diabetes, high blood pressure, aged over 60 years, smoking, obesity and family history are just some of the risk factors.
- Look out for symptoms: Kidney disease often has no warning symptoms, however there are signs which may indicate reduced kidney function, including changes in the amount or appearance of your urine, blood in your urine, muscle cramps, tiredness, puffiness in your legs, ankles or around your eyes, appetite loss and headaches.
- Complete KHA’s quick online test to identify your kidney disease risk.
- Speak to your doctor about a kidney health check.