Kidney damage is a common diabetes complication, but you can slow its progression or reduce your risk from developing it in the first place. Managing your blood sugars and certain medications can help lower your risk.

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which your blood sugar levels stay too high for too long because your body doesn’t properly make or use a hormone called insulin. Too much sugar (glucose) in your blood can lead to complications, including kidney damage.

Research shows that 1 in 3 people with diabetes develops chronic kidney disease (CKD) as a result of the high levels of sugar damaging blood vessels in the kidneys.

Although you can’t reverse kidney damage if you already have it, there are things you can do to prevent or slow it. Read on to learn how.

You can’t reverse kidney damage. However, you can slow the progression or reduce your risk of it happening in the first place.

If you catch kidney damage in the beginning stages, you may be able to get the treatment you need to stop or slow the damage.

If you don’t know you have kidney disease until it’s progressed, the damage to your kidney may be much harder to treat. Advanced chronic kidney disease may eventually require a kidney transplant or dialysis. Dialysis is a medical procedure that helps your body remove wastes from your blood, often using a machine.

That said, most people with diabetes don’t develop kidney failure.

Kidney damage can develop slowly over time — so gradually that some people don’t realize they have chronic kidney disease until it’s evolved into kidney failure. That’s because CKD is often asymptomatic.

The only way to be sure you don’t have CKD is to check your kidney function. Your healthcare team may request blood tests to see how well your kidneys filter it. They may also check your urine microalbumin levels.

Because CKD is so common among people with diabetes, regular checks for kidney problems are a common part of clinical visits and diagnostic lab tests for those with diabetes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends testing every year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends getting your kidney function checked frequently. Healthcare professionals can check it with simple and relatively inexpensive blood and urine tests.

Those who haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes may also consider having their kidney function checked.

A 2019 study of 7,728 adults found that those with prediabetes were more likely to develop CKD than those who didn’t have prediabetes or diabetes.

Some other tips from NIH for keeping your kidneys healthy include:

  • meeting your blood sugar goals
  • monitoring your blood sugar over time with an A1C test, which tracks average daily levels for the past few months
  • controlling your blood pressure
  • taking all of your medication as prescribed

The NIH also recommended healthy lifestyle habits such as:

  • getting enough sleep (7–8 hours per night)
  • quitting smoking
  • achieving and maintaining a moderate weight
  • getting active
  • eating a balanced diet

What you don’t do with CKD can be as important as what you do.

Avoiding certain foods or limiting them to keep your kidneys healthy is essential. The NIH recommends limiting the following:

  • sodium (salt)
  • phosphorous
  • potassium
  • protein (depending on the CKD stage; talk with your healthcare professional)
  • saturated fat
  • alcohol

If you have advanced CKD, you may need more help. The NIH encourages you to make an appointment with a renal dietician. The dietician can plan a diet that will help you feel better.

The right plan can also make it easier for your kidneys to maintain the right balance of minerals and salt. Eating the right foods can help you prevent or delay complications.

Healthcare professionals often prescribe different types of medication to help prevent or treat CKD. They may include:

  • insulin or meds that help keep your blood sugars in target ranges
  • lower cholesterol
  • lower blood pressure

Two types of blood pressure medication can also help with kidney disease: angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These are often prescribed for people with diabetes.

You may also discuss with your healthcare team the option of taking a diuretic (“water pill”) to help prevent water retention.

You may also take into consideration that certain over-the-counter medications can interact with your prescribed medications. Some common pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can also damage your kidneys if you have kidney disease.

Many people with diabetes develop chronic kidney disease (CKD). You can’t reverse the damage that’s already been done. However, you can reduce the risk of kidney damage.

Healthy lifestyle habits, diabetes management, and keeping blood sugars in target range can help you reduce your risk of kidney damage. Some medications can also help lower your risk of CKD.