Kidney disease is a silent killer: Know the risks and symptoms, and get a kidney health check | PHOTOS.

Lucky: Wallsend grandfather Bill Laing wants to raise awareness of the "silent disease" which caused his acute kidney failure. He is encouraging people at risk to get a kidney health check. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Lucky: Wallsend grandfather Bill Laing wants to raise awareness of the "silent disease" which caused his acute kidney failure. He is encouraging people at risk to get a kidney health check. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

BILL Laing was “merely existing” before a kidney transplant 26 years ago.

He was sick. He was tired. Sometimes he would turn a “funny colour” of a morning. But by the time those symptoms presented, he already had acute kidney failure.

“Once I got my transplant, whatever normal is, that’s what I feel now,” he said.

The Wallsend man, who considers himself “the luckiest person you’ll talk to,” wants to raise greater awareness of kidney disease to help others like him.

They call it the silent disease, given that 90 per cent of kidney function can be lost before any symptoms present.

“I was 33 when I started to get high blood pressure,” Mr Laing said. “The doctors weren’t sure if the kidneys caused the blood pressure, or the blood pressure caused the kidneys to go. But that’s the thing about kidney disease, you often don’t know you have it until it’s too late.”

Amcal Pharmacy commissioned a study that revealed 77 per cent of Australians had experienced symptoms of kidney disease, and 56 percent incorrectly associated excessive alcohol consumption as its major cause.

The study showed 12 per cent of Australians had noticed changes to their urine, 9 per cent had noted pain in their kidney area, and five per cent had seen blood in their urine. One in three Australians were at risk of chronic kidney disease.

James Nevile, a senior pharmacist for Amcal, urged people not to ignore the symptoms of kidney disease, and to be aware of the risk factors.

“Symptoms can include changes in their urine – whether it’s the colour, the quantity or appearance, or something different,” he said.

“If they have puffiness in their legs and ankles, are fatigued more than usual, a loss of appetite, headaches, itchiness, shortness of breath, and nausea and vomiting – but a lot of those are late stage symptoms.

“People can lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before any of those symptoms appear. So we want people to understand their risk factors.”

Mr Nevile said people with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and a family history of kidney disease were at risk, as were people who smoke, are obese and aged over 60.

“The kidney is a bit like a tea strainer, and part of its role is to stop most of the protein you get in your diet from escaping from your body,” he said. “If there’s damage to the tea strainer, some of that protein will get through, which will show up in your urine.”

Mr Laing was put on dialysis for four years before he had a kidney transplant.

“There was five of us that started on the dialysis together, and I’m the only one still here,” he said. “I think of my donor nearly every day.”