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Health Capsules: March 21

Consulting a rheumatologist will become more difficult for Americans in the coming years as a shortage of doctors practicing in that specialty worsens.

National Kidney Month focuses on body’s ‘unsung heroes’

Most people probably don’t give much thought to their kidneys on a day-to-day basis. Yet these essential organs always are hard at work, filtering the body’s waste and helping to control basic functions like blood pressure and red blood cell production.

Statistics show that 1 in 3 American adults currently is at high risk for developing kidney disease. Because kidney damage can occur without physical symptoms, many people currently have some stage of kidney disease, but don’t know it. Risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure and being over the age of 60.

During the month of March, designated as National Kidney Month, the National Kidney Foundation urges adults to “Take 5 for Your Kidneys,” and has provided a list of five simple steps Americans can take to protect their kidney health:

1. Get routine tests. Get an ACR urine test or a GFR blood test annually. These kidney function tests are especially important for those who have diabetes, high blood pressure, are over age 60 or have a family history of kidney disease.

2. Minimize NSAID use. Regular use of over-the-counter pain medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs], can harm the kidneys, especially for those with existing kidney disease. Reduce use of NSAIDs if possible, and never exceed the recommended dosage.

3. Cut the processed foods. Processed meats, cheeses, snacks and other processed foods can be significant sources of sodium, nitrates and phosphates, all of which are linked to kidney disease.

4. Exercise regularly.  Consistent exercise benefits the entire body, including the kidneys. Getting active for at least 30 minutes a day also can help control blood pressure and lower blood sugar, both vital to kidney health.

5. Control blood pressure and diabetes. These two conditions are the leading causes of kidney disease and kidney failure. Managing high blood pressure and controlling blood sugar levels can slow the progression of kidney disease, so both are essential to maintaining good kidney health.

Shortage of rheumatologists looms in the U.S.

Americans’ demand for doctors and other medical professionals who specialize in treating conditions like osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, vasculitis and other autoimmune diseases will soon greatly exceed the available supply of these professionals. Two recent analyses, one published in Arthritis & Rheumatology and the other in Arthritis Care & Research, noted that the need for rheumatologists has begun to rapidly overtake the projected growth of the workforce. Putting this coming doctor shortage in terms of numbers, there will be an estimated 4,133 fewer rheumatologists than needed in the U.S. by 2030.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, 50 percent of current specialists in the field – many of whom are aging baby boomers – are expected to retire over the next 15 years. As many as 80 percent of those doctors plan to reduce their patient loads to a part-time level for a number of years before leaving their practices, which will strain resources even further. Pediatric rheumatologists are especially scarce: There currently are fewer than 300 of these specialists practicing in the U.S.

At the same time, an aging population is projected to drive up demand for rheumatology services by about 138 percent by 2030. And although the analyses stated that there have been recent increases in the number of rheumatology fellowship programs along with the number of doctors being trained in those programs, even a doubling of that number would not meet the projected rheumatology workforce needs in 2030.

On the calendar

TEDxGatewayArch hosts its first chapter event of 2018, Think Well: Healthcare Out Loud from noon-4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 12 at Sheldon Concert Hall, 2648 Washington Blvd. in St. Louis. The event will feature six TEDTalk presenters and a special interview with Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.  Ticket prices start at $45. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit tedxgatewayarch.org/think-well-2018.

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Free health screenings for adults are available from 7:30-9:30 a.m. on Friday, April 13 at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters. Screening tests include lung function and blood pressure checks, cholesterol lipid panel and glucose testing, body composition analysis and BMI measurement. Participants should fast for at least 10 hours prior to screening. Register at bjcstcharlescounty.org/events.

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