Emily Rice Published

Doctor: W.Va. Leads Nation In Kidney Disease

A doctor wearing a white lab coat and stethoscope reports patient data on an iPad.Public Domain Pictures

This story was originally written on Feb. 19, 2024.

West Virginia has the highest rate of kidney disease in the U.S., with 4.9 percent of adults diagnosed with the disease.

Kidneys are two fist-size organs that are situated in the lower part of the back, just under the lower ribs. 

“Your kidneys are important in that they filter blood and make urine. They balance water and salts and minerals in your blood,” said Dr. Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institute of Health (NIH). “And they remove waste and extra fluids.”

Rodgers said kidneys also produce two hormones important for health: one that produces red blood cells, and another that keeps bones healthy.

“So as the kidneys begin to fail, one can have symptoms related to fatigue, loss of stamina, because you become anemic, your bones become more brittle,” Rodgers said. “The first sign might be a fractured bone, for example, but generally the signs are really not that specific. And for that reason, kidney disease is called a silent disease.”

Rodgers said people at high risk, like those with diabetes or high blood pressure, should be tested for kidney disease. Those older than 60 and people with a family history of kidney disease should also be tested.

“The tests are quite simple,” Rodgers said. “One is a blood test, the other the urine test. The blood test will determine how well your kidneys are filtering these waste products. And the second is whether there is protein in your urine, which is a sign that the filtering may be gone awry as well.”

Rodgers said West Virginia’s co-morbidities make rates of kidney disease higher. The state has the second highest rate of high blood pressure in the country at 45 percent of the population and 17 percent of West Virginians have diabetes, the highest rate in the country.

“Diabetes, high blood pressure are the major risk factors, and if you’re ranking one and two, it is not surprising that you would be among the states with the highest risk of kidney disease,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said the NIDDK is raising awareness about kidney health and working to develop better ways to diagnose and prevent kidney disease.

He said a healthy lifestyle is important to preventing kidney disease. Practices like getting enough sleep, exercising daily and making healthier food choices.

“Then finally quit smoking,” Rodgers said. “We certainly have to eat to live, but we don’t have to smoke to live.”

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Marshall Health.