National Kidney Month: Building Paths for LGBTQ+ Patients
March is National Kidney Month, and 2022’s theme focuses on building paths to better kidney care. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, or NIDDK, chronic kidney disease is a serious condition that affects 1 in 7 U.S. adults – an estimated 37 million Americans.
Approximately 9 out of 10 of patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) do not realize they have it. To effectively build paths to better care, the first step is awareness: what does optimal kidney health look like, and what factors can impact kidney health?
According to the National Kidney Foundation, kidneys work hard to keep us healthy in several ways: keeping blood minerals in balance, filtering waste from the blood, and regulating blood pressure and fluid levels.
Patient risk factors that may impact kidney health include diabetes, high blood pressure, family history, and age (60+). Practitioners can test kidney function via urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio and glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Symptoms of kidney disease may include:
- Swollen hands, face, abdomen, ankles, feet
- Puffy eyes
- Foamy urine, blood in urine, or difficult and painful urination
- Increased thirst
In addition to kidney failure, kidney disease can also cause other medical problems, such as:
- Nerve damage
- Cardiovascular disease
- Weak bones
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Anemia, or low red blood cell count
Managing kidney health can improve overall health, and practitioners can recommend treatment plans to be tailored to the type of CKD and individual. A “one size fits all” approach is not realistic, especially when treating patients within underserved or marginalized populations.
LGBTQ+ Kidney Care
“Patients who identify as LGBTQ+ face injustices in their everyday lives, including a disproportionate rate of kidney disease compared to those not in the LGBTQ+ community,” according to the National Kidney Foundation. These patients are often more reluctant to seeking medical care due to past negative experiences or discrimination. Unfortunately, this means proactive tests and screening can be missed.
Even if the patient attends a routine appointment, he or she may not feel comfortable sharing important details about their family lives. For example, if a patient is diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and needs at-home dialysis, the doctor may not consider this treatment as an option if the patient does not share his or her home situation, specifically partner support.
How Can We Help?
Nephrologists Need to Ensure LGBTQ+ Patients Receive Affirming Care shares insights from a kidney transplant recipient who identifies as a lesbian, and she highlights the importance of practitioners establishing trust with their patients.“If patients don’t feel comfortable sharing this part of their lives with their medical team, it will adversely affect their care and treatment,” according to Kim. “There are so many barriers that need to come down because kidney patients need support.”
Dina Proto International consults organizations and practitioners alike, guiding them as they identify and break down barriers, which ultimately helps improve health outcomes. Simply said, providing individualized, supportive, affirming care can save lives.
The path some patients travel to manage their health goals may be different than others, but all of us can help promote kidney-healthy practices in our daily lives. NIDDK cites three ways in which patients can partner with healthcare providers to build the path to better kidney health:
- Being an active participant in your care, i.e. collaborate with health care practitioners on a treatment plan personalized to you
- Following the care plan, i.e. staying up to date on vaccines, taking medication as prescribed
- Building a kidney healthy lifestyle, i.e. healthy diet, physical activity, and good sleeping habits
Education and awareness are key, and while there is much more work to be done, we can all take steps forward on the path to better kidney care for all patients.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2022). National Kidney Month 2022. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/community-health-outreach/national-kidney-month#:~:text=March%20is%20National%20Kidney%20Month!
National Kidney Foundation. (n.d.). March is National Kidney Month. Retrieved from https://www.kidney.org/content/national-kidney-month
National Kidney Foundation (1 June 2021). Nephrologists Need to Ensure LGBTQ+ Patients Receive Affirming Care. Retrieved from https://www.kidney.org/newsletter/nephrologists-need-to-ensure-lgbtq-patients-receive-affirming-care