In 2004, Rakhee Amitraj, a newly married 24-year-old woman from Bengaluru, underwent a biopsy. As per the reports, she was suffering from immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy, a type of kidney disease in which proteins build up in the kidneys, leading to inflammation and kidney failure.
It came as a shocker to her when she was informed by the doctors that she should not conceive, as it may take a toll on her kidneys over a period of time. It had only been a year since her marriage. “I was devastated. Imagine being newly married and told that you cannot conceive,” Rakhee tells Happiest Health.
However, Rakhee conceived with twins. “My gynecologist was worried that my kidneys are not doing well. I was also told that I will not be able to have both the children. I had to terminate one of the babies. This was another thing that took a mental toll on me,” she said.
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Two years after the birth of her son in 2006, everything was fine until she woke up with a swollen face one day. She was immediately rushed to a hospital and put on dialysis.
Dr Mythri Shankar, assistant professor of Nephrology from the Institute of Nephro Urology, Bengaluru (and a member of the Women in Nephrology association), lists some of the symptoms that Rakhee went through as the first warning signs of an underlying kidney disease.
“People are often very keen on getting their hearts checked frequently. This awareness is lacking when it comes to testing how well your kidney is functioning,” she tells Happiest Health.
Signs of kidney disease
According to Dr Shankar, the first signs of trouble are:
- Swelling around the eyes.
- Swelling in the feet.
- Sudden increase in body weight.
- Reduction in urine output.
“Women are more prone to develop certain kidney-related ailments, when compared to men. This includes urinary tract infections (UTIs), chronic kidney disease (CKD), lupus nephritis (an autoimmune disease that affects your kidneys) and pregnancy-related complications (such as preeclampsia, where the person develops hypertension during pregnancy),” says Dr Shankar.
She adds that it is the female anatomy and physiology that makes women more prone to developing UTIs and other infections.
Why are women more prone to kidney diseases?
“For women, the urethra, vagina and anal opening are in the same plane. So, the chances of getting an infection are very high. Biologically, women are more prone to develop urinary tract infections, especially after sexual intercourse. Women are also more prone to developing CKD than men,” Dr Shankar tells Happiest Health.
Rakhee underwent dialysis three times a week, plugged into a machine at the hospital. At that time, she was heading the training department at a top multinational company. “I was doing very well in my career at that time but had to give it up. This was yet another hit that I took in my life,” she rues.
Rakhee was fortunate as her uncle came forward to be her kidney donor. She underwent kidney transplant in 2010.
Today, Rakhee is a post-kidney transplant patient. “It took me nearly a year after the kidney transplant to get back on my feet. I was very careful. I stayed in my room; I only drank boiled water, had home-cooked food and exercised. Everything eventually fell into place,” she says.
Timely diagnosis is key
Dr Sushma Rani Raju, consultant nephrologist, department of Renal Sciences at Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, says that when it comes to renal health, the rules are largely the same for both men and women. However, she adds that timely diagnosis is key.
“Infections should never be neglected. Self-medication should never be done and if recurrent infections occur, they must meet a specialist who will try to understand if there is an underlying predisposing factor that needs to be looked into,” Dr Raju says.
Dr Shankar says that the most basic thing to do is to maintain adequate hydration. She adds that a simple kidney function test will help to ensure that your kidneys are in good shape.
Kidney function test
Kidney function test is very simple. It involves a creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test. “It measures the electrolyte (potassium, chloride, bicarbonate and fluoride) levels in your kidney. This test can be done once every year. Youngsters who go for an annual health checkup should at least get these two tests done. This is especially true for the high-risk population (like diabetics),” Dr Shankar said.
- Women are more prone to developing certain kidney-related ailments (like UTIs, CKD, lupus nephritis and pregnancy-related complications) compared to men.
- Kidney function test should be taken once in a year to make sure your kidneys are in good shape.
- Warning signs like swelling on the face and feet along with reduction in urine output should be carefully considered.