DEAR ABBY: Hypertension runs in my family, but as a pretty healthy 49-year-old, I didn't think much about it. I never realized that my pounding headaches were a direct result of high blood pressure. To make matters worse, the same high blood pressure that was causing my head to throb was also destroying my kidneys.

I wish I had known about my high blood pressure sooner and taken it seriously. When I finally learned about my kidney damage, it was too late to save them.

More than 73 million people are at risk for developing kidney disease, and I sincerely want to help them avoid this fate. My battle with kidney disease has turned me into an advocate for patients and those who are at risk. In honor of National Kidney Month, in March, and World Kidney Day, on March 12, will you please help me spread the word?

- Lance Taylor in Minnesota

DEAR LANCE: I'm pleased to help you in this worthwhile effort. According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in three American adults is at risk for kidney disease. Major risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of kidney failure and being age 60 or older. Additional risk factors include kidney stones, smoking, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Kidney disease often goes undetected because it lacks physical symptoms until the very late stages. By then the organs have already failed. But early detection, healthy lifestyle changes and proper treatment can slow the progress of kidney disease. Those at risk should have simple blood and urine tests to check if their kidneys are working properly.

Readers, if you are at risk, during your next physical examination, ask your health-care practitioner to check your kidneys. To learn more about prevention, visit kidney.org. You will also find information about free KEEP Healthy kidney screenings in your area.