The Connection Between Diabetes and Kidney Disease

Diabetes and Kidney Disease

Doctor holding a model of a kidney

If you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk of developing kidney disease. Kidney disease is also known as renal disease or nephropathy. Your kidneys may be affected within five to 10 years of your diagnosis with diabetes, with damage likely to occur for several years before it is detected.

The Progression of Renal Disease

Experts are not sure of how the damage to your kidneys occurs. The kidneys are affected in many different ways when you have diabetes:

  • Tiny blood vessels in your kidneys may become damaged.
  • Small structures called nephrons, which filter wastes from your blood, thicken and develop scars.
  • Lesions may develop.
  • As a result of kidney damage, protein may accumulate in your blood stream. Over 70% of people who have diabetes develop protein in their urine, which is often the first sign of kidney disease.
  • Your body’s ability to maintain a healthy balance of fluids may become hindered.

Your kidneys secrete hormones that help to control your blood pressure. If renal damage is not reversed and it worsens, your kidneys may not be able to work as well as they previously did and it may become harder to manage your blood pressure. Should this problem arise, the damage to your kidneys may continue to increase.

If the disease is not treated and it progresses, swelling of tissues, especially of the legs, and fatigue may occur. Headaches, vague feelings of not feeling well, nausea, or vomiting may occur. A decrease in appetite or itchy skin may arise. Some of these symptoms could be confused for diabetes symptoms, like diabetes-related loss of appetite, so be sure to check with your doctor if you’re concerned.


Chronic renal disease increases your chances of sustaining broken bones, as your body does not absorb calcium efficiently and vitamin D utilization becomes impaired. Constipation or diarrhea may develop. Your skin and eyes may have a yellowish, gold color. Anemia is common. Levels of electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, may be come imbalanced.

Diabetic nephropathy is the leading cause of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). If ESRD occurs, your kidneys may function minimally, or not at all. You may no longer produce urine. One result of a decrease in urine output is that your diabetic medication doses may need adjustment. You will need to be on a special diet. Every part of your body may be impacted. ESRD is a serious, life-threatening condition. If you have a diagnosis of ESRD, you may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

A serious complication of renal disease is possible damage to your heart and blood vessels. If you have renal disease, your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases increase by 30 to 40 times.

Fortunately, early-stage kidney disease is often reversible. Taking good care of your kidneys is essential if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Risk Factors

You are more likely to develop kidney disease if:

  • Diabetes or kidney disease runs in your family
  • You are a smoker
  • You are Native American, Black American, or Mexican American
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have type 1 diabetes that was diagnosed prior to the age of 20

Next page: Caring for your kidneys and taking control of your blood pressure.

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