Kidney health

Living healthily

The best way to try to prevent mild or moderate kidney impairment from worsening is to live as healthily as possible. This includes eating a healthy diet, being physically active, keeping to a healthy weight, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. It is also very important to keep blood pressure under control, as even small increases in blood pressure can have a big impact on kidney health. This means that if a doctor prescribes any tablets or medicines for blood pressure, it is important to take them regularly (see ‘Controlling blood pressure’). People we spoke to knew from information in the media how to follow a healthy lifestyle.
Some people had been advised by a health professional to make changes to aspects of their lifestyle; others said they had been asked about aspects of their lifestyle by a professional but not specifically advised to change anything. However, these conversations had rarely taken place in the context of a kidney disease diagnosis, but rather when discussing other health problems the person had. Many people said lifestyle had never come up in conversation with a health professional and any measures they had taken to improve their lifestyle had been done on their own initiative.
There was a common feeling that more advice from their doctor about ways to maintain their kidney health would be useful (see ‘People’s ongoing information and support needs’). To learn about the changes people made to their lifestyle see ‘Lifestyle changes’.

Another way that some people chose to look after their general health was to use certain complementary therapies or remedies alongside conventional medicine. For instance, some used chiropractic or massage for musculoskeletal aches and pains. Margaret sometimes uses a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine to relieve the pain from her rheumatoid arthritis. She also uses tea tree oil for skin wounds, and lavender oil to help her get to sleep at night. At various times in her life Laura had tried psychotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, and herbal medicines. She also does reiki (a Japanese system of natural healing) accompanied by a visualisation of her kidneys being completely healed. Jim B had used Chinese medicine for many years to treat headaches and other ailments although this had not always been approved of by his doctors. He also used meditation, diet and exercise in an attempt to keep as fit and well as possible in a bid to postpone the need for dialysis for his stage 5 kidney disease.
Complementary approaches to dealing with ill health have been less thoroughly tested than conventional medicines, or not tested at all, so their effects are not proven in the same way. However, they seem to help many people to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression and promote a sense of well-being. There is growing evidence that certain complementary treatments, such as acupuncture, may also reduce some side effects of certain conventional medical treatments. As the word 'complementary' suggests, these approaches should be considered an addition to and not an alternative for conventional medical treatment. People with kidney impairment who are considering using complementary remedies, such as herbal medicines, should discuss this with their doctor beforehand.

For more about complementary medicine see NHS Choices.

Some people we spoke to used dietary supplements, such as vitamins or cod liver oil. Remedies for colds or indigestion were also bought over the counter when needed, as were painkillers such as paracetamol. A few had painkillers prescribed by their GP. Peter had been able to buy antibiotics over the counter when he lived in Spain, but in the UK these are only available on prescription. Some people were wary about taking over-the-counter products because they could cause unwanted effects or interfere with conventional medicines they were taking.

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