Take control of your kidney health: understanding your medications
What kidney medicines do you take? How do you take them? Why do you take them?
Medications can be difficult to keep track of, but with a little knowledge and teamwork, they don’t have to be.
This article is designed to give you a basic introduction to kidney medications so you can better understand and take control of your health.
Communication is key
Bring your medications in to your next doctor’s appointment. This is the first and most important step to personal empowerment and effective communication with your doctor.
Don’t rely on a list, we recommend bringing all your medications in their bottles together in a Ziploc bag. That way your doctor can accurately see what you are taking and how you have been instructed to use them.
Never assume that your doctor already knows what you are taking. Between specialists, primary care doctors, and other appointments, it’s easy for a medications list to become out of date.
“Do you know how many times a patient’s medications match up with the information on their chart? It’s almost never accurate! That’s why I always have my patients bring their medications into their appointments.”Dr. Richard Gibney
Understanding your kidney health medications
Ask your doctor to walk you through your medications. Don’t worry about understanding all of them at once, just focus on one or two each appointment. Find out what they do and why you are taking them.
Our Empowered Kidney Care nephrologists like to first highlight the “big three” medications you should be taking to preserve your kidney health:
- SGLT-2 Inhibitors: These new drugs are a game changer, with the potential to preserve kidney function and keep you off dialysis. Originally designed as a diabetic pill, doctors soon found that SGLT-2 Inhibitors also provide remarkable benefits for the heart and kidneys. It’s like three pills in one! Ask your doctor if you are not already on an SGLT-2 Inhibitor. (Brands include Invokana, Farxiga, Jardiance, and Steglatro, and others.)
- ACE Inhibitors and ARBs: These pills were originally designed to help control blood pressure, but like SGLT-2 Inhibitors, doctors discovered they had multiple benefits for kidney disease patients, protecting the kidneys and heart. (Brands include losartan, lisinopril, and others.)
- Beta Blockers: These pills are another important drug for blood pressure and cardiac (heart) health. (Brands include metoprolol and others.)
Beyond these “big three,” you may be taking other medications to improve general health and control blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, or other conditions. After you feel like you have a good grasp of your kidney medications, ask your doctor to talk you through these medications as well.
Most patients assume all medications should be taken according to the exact frequency and quantity prescribed, but did you know this is not always the case?
Talk to your doctor about what prescriptions can be modified (within reason) to help you take control of your health and feel better.
“Whenever I get a new patient, I ask them why they take their medicines. They have no clue. But then we give them knowledge, understanding, and control. These are real tangible benefits. They come in smiling; they leave smiling. They know we care. There has to be relationship and trust.”Dr. Richard Gibney
Just like working on a car, there are certain things you can do at home and certain things you should not do yourself. Anyone can learn to fill the gas tank, replace windshield wipers, or check tire pressure, but you should not start taking apart your engine without the proper know-how. Leave that to the experts!
Always talk to your doctor before modifying your prescriptions in any way.
Once you and your doctor have set up a plan and appropriate guidelines, you may be able to better control:
- Blood Pressure: If your blood pressure is too low, you may need to back off from certain medications. If it’s consistently too high, you may need to increase the dose.
- Blood Sugar: If your blood sugar is too low, you may need to reduce the dosage for certain diabetes medications. If it’s consistently too high, you may need to consider diet and lifestyle changes to keep things under control.
- Swelling: Certain blood pressure medications help reduce swelling in your lower legs, but too much can make your blood pressure too low. Finding the right balance can keep you healthy and comfortable.
Note that each of these areas rely on having the right information: data like blood pressure and blood sugar levels. To better understand your body and condition, check out our recent article on collecting your own data.
You may have the opportunity to “fine tune” certain medications, but you do not have total control. Never change or stop taking your medications without first consulting your doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Remember to bring your medications to your next doctors’ appointment and start a conversation about how you can achieve a better understanding. Your doctor only sees you every once in a while, but the rest of the time, you are in charge! Ask questions and take control. Your health is up to you.
Here are a few final questions we are frequently asked about kidney health medications:
- I’ve got too many medications that all need to be taken at different times. How can I keep up?
There are only a few medicines that are really critical in timing. Talk to your doctor and make a plan. Chances are, you can get most (if not all) of your medications first thing in the morning or before you go to bed.
- If I forget to take a pill, should I take two to catch up?
For most medications, you should not “double up.” Many of your medications provide long-term kidney health benefits, so it doesn’t make sense to take more than one dose at a time. In fact, certain medications can be harmful if you take a double dose. For instance, if you double your beta blockers, you could have dangerously low blood pressure. If in doubt, ask your doctor.
- What if I can’t afford certain medications?
Ask your doctor if you are having trouble. They should be able to help you coordinate your prescriptions with insurance. For certain medications like the new SGLT-2 Inhibitors, your hospital or medical system may be able to provide special programs to help fund your prescription. There are also a variety of tools like CareZone and GoodRx to help you manage and find affordable prescriptions.
“I work in some of the poorest neighborhoods or ‘barrios,’ in south San Antonio… Many are affected by high obesity, low income, low education, and English language barriers. They have everything working against them, but you know what? They are doing great! With a little patience and trust, we are empowering them with the knowledge they need to take control of their own health.”Dr. Richard Gibney