(BPT) - Did you know chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects an estimated 37 million adults in the United States? Even more surprising, 90% of people in early stage CKD are unaware that they have the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between 10-30% of CKD cases have an underlying genetic cause. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine publication revealed that 1 in 10 patients with CKD have a genetic diagnosis — a rate similar to that observed for hereditary cancer.

Your kidneys help your body function by removing waste and excess fluid, maintaining your body's correct balance of minerals, salt and water, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. CKD means that the kidneys are damaged, leading to a potential buildup of toxic waste and fluid — putting patients at a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and/or stroke.

Early detection of CKD can help people protect their kidneys, but many people don't experience symptoms early. How can you understand if you’re at risk?

Here are six ways genetic testing for CKD can help you and your family:

1. Understand your risk.

Learning whether your family history of CKD was caused by an inherited gene provides information about your potential risk for kidney disease. If you have a family member with kidney disease, or if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, ask your doctor about genetic testing.

2. Gain knowledge about treatment options.

Tests like Natera's Renasight™ provide personalized information and guidance into medication, treatment decisions and clinical trial eligibility. Renasight looks for hereditary causes of kidney disease in over 380 genes, and can help confirm a diagnosis and identify the underlying genetic cause of kidney disease and its progression.

"Renasight gave me answers, peace of mind, and access to a more affordable way to take charge of my own health," said Rachelle McCray, a patient advocate and paid consultant for Natera. "For over 30 years, I waited for confirmation of whether or not I have genetic kidney disease because a biopsy was not a good option for me, and testing each gene for my assumed condition can cost thousands of dollars. The Renasight test, which is a simple blood test, confirmed I have Alport syndrome and revealed which gene of the disease I carry. The test results gave me and my doctor information about how we should consider my care moving forward. "

3. Get comfortable with the testing process.

Speaking with a genetic counselor throughout the testing process offers information about next steps. Genetic counselors are master’s trained, are often board-certified and often licensed (state-dependent) healthcare professionals who answer questions before your test and explain the results. Many genetic testing companies employ genetic counselors, and you may be able to speak with one at no cost. With the Renasight test, genetic counselors at Natera are available for complimentary pre- and post-test genetic information sessions.

"Genetic testing helps patients understand their risk, and helps healthcare providers personalize treatments," said Maggie Westemeyer, a genetic counselor and associate director of genetic counseling at Natera. "It also helps relatives who may be at risk, and may influence decisions around family planning."

4. Avoid unnecessary procedures.

Genetic diagnosis can help you avoid unnecessary or invasive diagnostic procedures such as a kidney biopsy for the diagnosis of inherited kidney diseases such as Alport syndrome. It can also prevent unnecessary procedures for at-risk relatives.

5. Share information with your family.

Your genetic testing results could mean your family is also at risk, so it's a good idea to encourage them to get tested.

Because early-stage CKD often has no symptoms, genetic testing, along with standard blood and urine screening tests, provides vital information that can guide early treatment for kidney disease.

6. Take proactive steps.

If you have been diagnosed with CKD or are at risk for CKD, lifestyle changes supported by the American Kidney Fund may help slow the progression, including:

  • Reducing salt and fat in your diet
  • Exercising most days
  • Controlling your blood pressure
  • Controlling blood sugar (if you have diabetes)
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Learn more at Natera.com.

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