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Silent symptoms – why kidney care is critical


1 in 7 Americans have chronic kidney disease. Even scarier, as many as 9 in 10 adults with chronic kidney disease do not know they have it. 

Tryon Medical Partners Internal medicine Dr. Christopher Buehrig knows this better than most primary care clinicians. He brings his background in nephrology (study of the kidneys) into his role as an internist at Tryon Medical Partners’ Steele Creek location. 

“Functioning kidneys are so important to the overall health of our bodies,” Dr. Buehrig notes.  “There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not using my skills as a trained nephrologist to problem-solve for my patients.” 

Kidney function is critical to general health and wellness.

Nephrology is not a well-known speciality, but it’s an incredibly important one. Dr. Buehrig defines nephrology as the study of the kidneys and the way they work. The main role of the kidneys is to cleanse the blood of toxins and transform the waste into urine. 

Nephrologists, like Dr. Buehrig, spend significant time trying to detect disease early so patients can avoid renal damage (also called kidney failure) and the need for dialysis (the process of removing excess water, solutes and toxins from the blood in people whose kidneys can no longer perform these functions naturally). 

“We can lose up to 90% of our kidney function before we even notice symptoms,” Dr. Buehrig points out. “When I used to work in nephrology, patients would come to the emergency room and need dialysis immediately. It was very frustrating that by the time they came to us, it was too late. All we could do was dialysis.” 

Going to your primary care doctor can help prevent kidney disease from developing.

With kidney disease, the most important piece is prevention. Because of this, Dr. Buehrig has switched his focus to internal medicine where he can focus on the preventive piece long before the point of dialysis. As a primary care clinician, Dr. Buehrig can provide preventive education around blood pressure and other indicators of poor kidney health, explaining why they matter and what will happen if they’re not taken seriously. 

Dr. Buehrig works to ensure that his patients are having annual labs assessing kidney function, especially those with diabetes and high blood pressure. Without these preventive measures, it may be years before someone is aware of the impact of their conditions.  

Dr. Buehrig recommends the following to make sure you can keep your kidneys in good health: 

“Prevention is the most important thing,” Dr. Buehrig emphasizes. “Even if you lose 20-30% of your kidney function, you can still avoid dialysis by changing lifestyle habits. If you’re seeing your primary care provider and keeping yourself in good health, it will pay dividends 10-15 years down the road.” 

Preventing kidney disease is especially important for communities of color.

It’s important to recognize that unequal access to medical care is an important factor in kidney health. African Americans are more at risk for kidney failure than any other race – more than 1 in 3 kidney failure patients living in the United States are African American

Dr. Buehrig shares that African American communities are not typically provided enough access to primary care. Because prevention is so important in stopping kidney failure, missing out on this opportunity to check in on kidney health can be lethal. Without a primary care clinician, it is difficult to work together to touch base on medications, explain lab results and put together a treatment plan. 

“It’s a team effort,” Dr. Buehrig notes. “Without seeing my patients, I can’t do much to help them slow down the process of kidney failure. African American patients are disproportionately denied this opportunity because of access and cost of care. Continuing community education and outreach are critical steps to closing this gap.”