Although kidney disease can affect people of all ages and ethnicities, women are prone to face more specific challenges tied to kidney disease. The incidence of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is at least as high in women as in men and may even be higher. Studies have shown that CKD affects approximately 195 million women worldwide and is currently the 8th leading cause of death in women. There is a risk of morbidity associated with CKD and in many cases it progresses towards kidney failure, necessitating kidney replacement therapy i.e. dialysis and/or kidney transplantation.
Types of kidney diseases that are more common in women
Lupus Nephritis is a disease that leads to kidney damage, caused by an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The disorder causes the body’s immune system to attack the body’s own cells and tissues. Kidney disease due to lupus may worsen over time and can lead to kidney failure. SLE is much more common in women often striking during the child-bearing years. It is estimated that 9 in 10 people diagnosed with SLE are women.
Pyelonephritis (kidney infection) is a kind of urinary tract infection (UTI) most commonly caused by bacteria which starts in the lower urinary tract. If untreated, it can move upstream to one or both of the kidneys. Kidney infections can cause sepsis, which can be life threatening. Due to their anatomy, UTI is more common in women and girls.
Health challenges that are unique to women
Conception – CKD is considered as a risk factor that affects fertility, especially in its advanced stage, when dialysis is required. While it may be challenging, conception is still possible while on dialysis and the results have been shown to improve with intensive treatment of daily or closely frequent sessions. The use of contraceptive pills as a birth control method is generally discouraged for women with CKD as it may cause an increase in blood pressure and blood clots that can make kidney disease worse.
Pregnancy-related complications – CKD may be caused by both Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) and preeclampsia (PE – a complication in pregnancy which can lead to high blood pressure and kidney damage in the mother). It not only poses a threat to maternal health, but is also associated with fetal mortality, preterm birth and restricted intrauterine growth.
If the mother has any pre-existing kidney disease it can negatively affect the pregnancy and may pose a threat to the health of both the mother and the fetus. Increased chances of adverse pregnancy outcomes including preeclampsia, AKI, progression of CKD, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, malformations, and other long-term issues have been observed.
While Pregnancy offers an opportunity for diagnosis of kidney disease, it is also a state where acute and chronic kidney diseases may develop which may impact the health of future generations.
As individuals, it is important for women to be aware of how important your kidneys are to your overall health and how you can prevent or slow down the progression of kidney disease.
Key questions to ascertain your risk
- Do you have high blood pressure?
- Are you diabetic?
- Do you smoke?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you have a family history of kidney disease?
- Are you over 50?
- Are you of African, Hispanic, Asian or Aboriginal descent?
If your answer is yes to one or more of these questions, it is advisable to discuss with your doctor. Early chronic kidney disease is silent and has no signs or symptoms. By treating kidney disease early, you can help delay or prevent kidney failure.