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Emily Chang, MD, visited L.J. Rogers Trucking in Mebane, NC, to meet “Driver of the Year” James Dorman.

Long-distance drivers may be at greater risk for kidney problems, and this includes professional truck drivers. Emily Chang, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of nephrology and hypertension, was recently interviewed on SiriusXM’s Road Dog Trucking Channel, promoting kidney health and wellness.

“The statistics are staggering. Only 10% of people with chronic kidney disease know that they have kidney disease,” Chang says in the Radio Nemo “Highway to Health” interview.

“There are no symptoms until you’re really bad off and by then it’s often too late. We can’t do anything to help you if you don’t make it to us by the time you have symptoms. At that point, treatment is often the dreaded dialysis.”

“I’m so honored to be invited to speak to listeners,” says Chang. “Thanks to truck drivers for everything they do, before the pandemic, but especially now.  I know it’s a really hard job, and I’m always thrilled when I have a patient tell me they were a former truck driver, or they are a truck driver, because I don’t think they get recognized enough for all their hard work.”

Chang explained the kidneys as remarkable organs that can filter the whole volume of blood in the body at least five times a day. In addition to cleaning and filtering out waste products, the kidneys determine how much salt and water the body needs to keep for healthy functioning. They also regulate blood pressure, they regulate acid and base levels in the body, and they produce a hormone that signals to the bone marrow to make red blood cells. They even contribute to bone health.

Chang also got a chance to drive a truck at L.J. Rogers.

When scarring occurs, triggered by conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, filtering becomes harder and harder. Chang uses a water hose analogy to explain.

“Blood pressure and the kidneys are extremely tightly linked. Imagine blocking the end of a water hose with your finger, while turning on the spigot. When a person has high blood pressure, too much pressure builds up. Overtime, uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause arteries around the kidney to narrow or weaken, which makes the blood flow to the kidneys get smaller and smaller. When this happens, the kidneys can lose their ability to filter and regulate.

Chang says listeners should be screened if they have a family history of chronic kidney disease or a history of kidney stones. She also recognizes that certain autoimmune diseases can make someone more susceptible, and that African Americans are often at higher risk which may be genetic.

What are the signs? Chang says that’s the hardest part about it.

“If you have consistently foamy urine, it’s worth asking your primary care doctor to be tested, and also if you have blood in your urine,” Chang says. “Certainly, if you have a history of blood pressure, diabetes or heart problems, these are reasons to ask your doctor to check on your kidneys.”

How does what one drinks help or hurt the kidneys? Chang says flow to the kidneys matter.

“Caffeine can dehydrate, so make sure you’re drinking water with it. Chase the coffee with water. Sodas can be a problem.  If you must have a soda, drink diet. It’s important to stay hydrated.” Chang also recognizes salt intake. “More and more restaurants are offering lower salt options. Eat lots of fruits and vegetable. It is so important for kidneys in keeping the right acid/base balance.”

One in nine North Carolinians has Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). The UNC Kidney Center’s Outreach Program increases awareness for CKD, by conducting targeted screenings and hosting conversations with at risk communities across North Carolina.

Find Chang’s interview here, along with a follow-up interview about kidney stones.