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Sir William Osler, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, once remarked, “The one thing that separates man from animals is man’s desire to take pills”.
Now, a report from the University of California says 30 million North Americans, largely due to what I’ve labelled “pillitis”, have chronic kidney disease (CKD).
And 95 per cent don’t know they have it.
Kidneys are the master chemists in our body. They control water balance, keep the blood neither too acidic nor alkaline, help to control blood pressure and filter every drop of blood in our body every three minutes.
Unfortunately, humans do not learn from history. Years ago, Australians began to use mixtures of powders containing Aspirin and phenacetin to ease pain. By the 1970s, 25 per cent of those dying of kidney disease had consumed too much of this powder.
Chronic kidney disease today is being caused by several factors. According to Karl L. Womer, director of the Kidney Transplant Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, five per cent of all hospital patients develop kidney infection. This figure can escalate to 23 per cent in intensive care areas and jumps to 30 per cent if patients are scheduled for cardiac surgery. If these statistics had not come from this prestigious hospital, I would not believe them. They’re certainly scary enough to make anyone run for the woods.
Today, an increasing number of cases of CKD are also due to advancements in medicine. It’s impossible to undergo some of these new procedures without the risk of infection. So be grateful if, following a hip replacement, bypass coronary operation or any hospital admission, you leave without an infection.
Following surgery an infection may require the prolonged use of antibiotics. But these life-savings drugs can also injure the kidney’s filtering system of one million nephrons, which when placed in a single line stretch for 70 miles.
There are also more invasive diagnostic procedures requiring the use of catheters and the injection of dyes. They’re performed with great care, but always hovering is the risk of infection. And if it happens it’s often due to bad luck.
point is often forgotten. Be sure you need the operation. If a surgical problem is minor, causing little trouble, sometimes it may be better to live with the devil you know than the one you don’t.
But the main problem is that humans are still ingesting too much medicinal garbage. I’m not related to our Maker, so I have no first-hand knowledge to report from Him or Her. But I believe our creator designed kidneys to excrete natural products, not to handle the volume of synthetic drugs available in pharmacies and consumed by so many unsuspecting people.
Unfortunately, millions of North Americans slowly damage kidneys by being brain-washed by TV commercials pushing painkillers that claim to provide instant relief. A report in the British Medical Journal states that people who take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and Aspirin over a long time face a 31 per cent increase in the risk of chronic kidney disease.
I often asked my patients to bring all their pills to me in a brown paper bag. It amazed me that the bag often contained many drugs that had been used over a prolonged period of time. And that some patients had no idea of what they were for.
My advice is to be careful what you put in the paper bag. It’s a dangerous habit to turn to painkillers for every ache and pain. Researchers at the University of California report that the misuse of drugs has resulted in a 10 per cent increase every year of patients being attached to kidney dialysis machines. That’s a tragedy that could be prevented by swallowing fewer pills.
So, use the lowest effective dose of a painkiller for the shortest possible time. And remember that ad agencies know there’s a sucker born every minute who will believe every ad they see on TV.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out his website, docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at email@example.com. He can also be found on Twitter @GiffordJonesMD.