Vikki Morgan says her doctor described her as the “healthiest unhealthy person he ever met.”

Unfortunately, this 31-year-old newlywed, who eats a healthy diet and exercises regularly, needed a kidney transplant.

Vikki’s story isn’t unusual for a person with Type 1 diabetes. After receiving her diagnosis at age 7, Vikki has visited a kidney specialist (called a nephrologist) every year as a precaution. Two years ago, her doctor told her she had stage 3 kidney disease.

Causes and Consequences

In healthy people, the kidneys prevent waste and fluid from building up in the body, make hormones that keep bones strong, and control blood pressure.

But the onset of diabetes injures the small blood vessels and makes it difficult for the kidneys to clean the blood. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage, which sometimes leads to trouble urinating. If that happens, the pressure of a full bladder can hurt the kidneys. 

Vikki was blindsided by her diagnosis, but the long-term consequences of Type 1 diabetes are well known. Nearly every individual with Type 1 diabetes will develop kidney disease within two to five years. What’s more, the disease rarely produces symptoms at this early stage. That’s one reason the National Kidney Foundation believes most of the estimated 28 million Americans who have kidney disease don’t know it.

About 30 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes will end up with more serious kidney disease within 10 to 30 years. As the disease progresses, confusion, headaches, weakness and vomiting are common. People at stage 3 will have lost nearly half of their kidney function. This can cause still other issues, such as high blood pressure or bone problems.

Vikki’s Story

Last November, Vikki returned from her honeymoon with an extra 20 pounds of water weight. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease. 

People who reach this stage won’t survive unless they receive dialysis, a medical treatment that does the job the kidneys can’t do anymore, or a transplant. Vikki needed a transplant.

Her body was filled with fluid because her kidneys could not get rid of waste. She had a rash from the toxins in her body. She also suffered from anemia, another common symptom of kidney failure. That means her body wasn’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood, which made her tired and weak. As her surgery approached, Vikki often struggled to get out of bed.

Vikki’s husband, Carl, donated a kidney to his new wife. “He wants me to be well. He’s tired of seeing me suffer,” Vikki said.

Vikki and Carl had their surgery in May and are doing well.

Protect Yourself

If you have any of the risk factors for kidney disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease or a family history of kidney failure, you should get a screening every year.

A blood test will show how well your kidneys are filtering blood, and a urine test will show if there’s too much protein in your urine. If you are diagnosed with kidney disease, sticking to a prescribed diet and using medications to help control your glucose levels can help prevent your kidneys from failing.

Swollen ankles and increased urination, especially at night, can be a sign of kidney issues. You should talk with a doctor right away if you notice these symptoms.

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Prevention is the best cure.

Catching kidney disease or any other chronic illness early is critical to successful treatment. Don’t skip your annual exam and health screenings. Learn more about your covered preventive screenings.