Harlem Word: Dr. Thomas Nickolas talks about who’s most likely to get kidney disease

Dr. Thomas Nickolas, MD, MS is a nephrologist (a kidney disease doctor) in Northern Manhattan. Here he talks about who is at risk for getting kidney disease and what you can do to lower your chances of getting it.

Q: Who's "at risk" or more likely to have kidney disease?

A: People who have other diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are more likely to get kidney disease, people who have family members who have had kidney disease, and African Americans are more likely to develop kidney disease than Caucasians.

Q: Why are African Americans more likely to get kidney disease than Caucasians?

A: We think it's because more African Americans have diabetes and high blood pressure than Caucasions. African Americans also tend to eat a diet that's higher in salt, which can cause high blood pressure (which can lead to kidney disease) and also may have more trouble getting medical care to get treated for diabetes or high blood pressure.

Q: So people who don't see a doctor on a regular basis have a greater chance of getting kidney disease?

A: Absolutely. If you don't see a doctor who is checking to see if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes or checking to see if your kidneys are working, then your kidneys can just get worse and worse until they no longer work or "fail."

Q: What can people do if they don't have health insurance or the chance to get regular medical checkups?

A: The two biggest reasons why people get kidney disease in the United States are high blood pressure and diabetes. You can walk into most pharmacies and get your blood pressure checked for free. That would be a really good way to figure out if you have high blood pressure, which makes you more likely to get kidney disease.

For diabetes, if there are community screening programs going on in your neighborhood you should go and, if they can, have them check your blood and urine to see if there is any kidney failure or any protein or blood in the urine.

When the kidneys are very diseased, kidney care is actually paid for by the government. Any patient who is on dialysis or has a transplant is actually covered by Medicare and Medicaid. That only happens when a patient has complete kidney shutdown.

Read more from Dr. Nickolas by clicking the links below:

To listen to our interview with Dr. Nickolas, click here.

Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.

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