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Kidney damage (nephropathy)

People with type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing kidney problems, called nephropathy.
Content last reviewed and updated: 16.08.2023

Your kidneys act as a filter to cleanse the blood and get rid of waste products. High blood glucose levels and high blood pressure can both cause the blood vessels and filters in the kidneys to become damaged. When this happens, protein can get into your urine where it shouldn’t be.

When the kidneys are damaged, they won’t work properly. It means other organs, like your heart, must work harder and it can put extra strain on them.

Spotting the signs of kidney damage

You’ll be offered a urine test and blood test every year. These will monitor the health of your kidneys and see how well they are working. These tests will be carried out as part of your annual review.

Physical symptoms may appear when kidney damage is more advanced. Symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Swollen ankles, feet or hands
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling sick
  • Blood in your pee
  • Foamy pee

Getting diagnosed with kidney damage

Kidney damage can be diagnosed through your routine blood and urine tests. These form part of your annual review.

The blood test will identify the level of a waste product called creatinine and estimates your glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). This calculation is how many millilitres of waste your kidneys should be able to filter in a minute.

The urine test looks for signs of any proteins or blood. Together with your blood test, it gives a more accurate picture of how well your kidneys are working.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of kidney damage, contact your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team as soon as possible.

Reducing your risk of kidney damage

Other ways you can reduce your risk:

Treatments for kidney damage

There are treatments to help relieve symptoms and stop it from getting worse.

The first option for treatment is usually to get your blood pressure under control using medication. You may also be offered diuretics, which help your body get rid of excess fluid.

If your kidney damage is more advanced, it’s called chronic kidney disease. But there are treatments that can help this condition.

Where to go for more support

If you experience any symptoms of nerve damage, speak to your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team. They can help you to reduce the risk of damage getting worse and give you treatments to reduce your symptoms.

Diabetic kidney disease research

Research to help prevent and treat complications of type 1 is a vital part of our work. Our JDRF-funded researchers in Australia have identified specific genes in people with type 1 which can predict the development and progression of diabetic kidney disease. Find out more about this research.

Other JDRF-funded research here in the UK has found biological markers which are early signs that someone is starting to develop diabetic kidney disease. This crucial finding could help doctors diagnose people with kidney damage earlier and start treatment to help prevent further damage.

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