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‘It’s a silent disease’: Online quiz alerts people to kidney disease risk

Marc Maillet's life turned upside down when he was diagnosed with kidney disease, a condition which he said a new online assessment could have alerted him to earlier.
Marc Maillet's life turned upside down when he was diagnosed with kidney disease, a condition which he said a new online assessment could have alerted him to earlier. Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – Marc Maillet’s life turned upside down when he was diagnosed with kidney disease, a condition which he said a new online assessment could have alerted him to earlier.

The 47-year-old does not have a family history of kidney disease.

In fact, he did not know he had the condition until health tests for life insurance showed high protein levels in his urine and doctors diagnosed him with glomerulonephritis, a type of chronic kidney disease.

“A whole bunch of emotions, like scary, come to mind. Knowing you’re on the path to dialysis and potentially a transplant as well [is] scary,” he said.

The Cole Harbour man has managed with the condition, but about four years ago, the disease progressed and he is now on the transplant list.

He said the disease has taken an emotional and physical toll on him.

“I was just dragging my knuckles on the ground,” Maillet said. “Just extremely tired and wanting to sleep basically all the time. My muscles hurt everywhere just like I’d done a huge workout.

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“It’s life-changing. If you talk to anyone who is on dialysis, it completely turns your life around. The routine you were used to is completely different now. I just can’t get up and go away for four or five days because I have to be around every second day to go to dialysis.”

The Kidney Foundation said approximately 5,000 Nova Scotians have the condition, which also afflicts one out of every 10 Canadians.

The organization now offers a free online assessment to tell users how at-risk they might be for kidney disease.

The quiz asks users whether they are obese, have diabetes or smoke.

It also asks them whether they have a family history of the condition, or if they are part of an ethnic group that is more at risk for developing it.

Maillet said the assessment would have been helpful for him.

“It’s not going to tell you whether you have kidney disease or not but it certainly gives you an indication whether you should probably go a little bit further and get tested and see if your kidney functions are ok or not,” he said.

“I never thought about something like that. If someone would have talked to me about it, maybe I would have gotten tested earlier than 1995.”

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David Landry, who sits on the board of directors for the Nova Scotia chapter of the Kidney Foundation, is also a nurse practitioner in the renal program at Capital Health. He works firsthand with dialysis patients.

“It’s a silent disease. It can progress silently to a certain stage,” he said.

Landry said there are things people can do to reduce their risk.

“Trying to lose weight, exercise, controlling their blood pressure, trying to manage their diabetes, trying to avoid regular intake of certain medications,” he said.

Landry said a diagnosis of kidney disease can be life altering and urges everyone to take the online assessment seriously.

“Kidney disease is preventable. You can also slow the progression if you identify the risk factors you may be affected by and try to manage those, you can slow the overall progression.”