What is chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Chronic kidney disease includes conditions that damage your kidneys and decrease their ability to keep you healthy by performing their function. If kidney disease gets worse, wastes can build to high levels in your blood and make you sick. You may develop complications like high blood pressure, anemia (low blood count), weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage. Also, kidney disease increases your risk of having heart and blood vessel disease. These problems may happen slowly over a long period of time. Chronic kidney disease may be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure and other disorders. Early detection and treatment can often keep chronic kidney disease from getting worse. When kidney disease progresses, it may eventually lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life.

How do kidneys help to keep you healthy?

In addition to removing wastes and fluid from your body, your kidneys perform these other important jobs:

  • Regulate your body water and other chemicals in your blood such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium
  • Remove drugs and toxins introduced into your body
  • Release hormones into your blood to help your body:
    • regulate blood pressure
    • make red blood cells
    • promote strong bones.

What causes CKD?

The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes happens when your blood sugar is too high, causing damage to many organs in your body, including the kidneys and heart, as well as blood vessels, nerves and eyes. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the pressure of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels increases. If uncontrolled, or poorly controlled, high blood pressure can be a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. Also, chronic kidney disease can cause high blood pressure.

Other conditions that affect the kidneys are:

  • Glomerulonephritis, a group of diseases that cause inflammation and damage to the kidney’s filtering units. These disorders are the third most common type of kidney disease.
  • Inherited diseases, such as polycystic kidney disease, which causes large cysts to form in the kidneys and damage the surrounding tissue.
  • Malformations that occur as a baby develops in its mother’s womb. For example, a narrowing may occur that prevents normal outflow of urine and causes urine to flow back up to the kidney. This causes infections and may damage the kidneys.
  • Lupus and other diseases that affect the body’s immune system.
  • Obstructions caused by problems like kidney stones, tumors or an enlarged prostate gland in men.
  • Repeated urinary infections.

What are the symptoms of CKD?

Most people may not have any severe symptoms until their kidney disease is advanced. However, you may notice that you:

  • feel more tired and have less energy
  • have trouble concentrating
  • have a poor appetite
  • have trouble sleeping
  • have muscle cramping at night
  • have swollen feet and ankles
  • have puffiness around your eyes, especially in the morning
  • have dry, itchy skin
  • need to urinate more often, especially at night.

Anyone can get chronic kidney disease at any age. However, some people are more likely than others to develop kidney disease. You may have an increased risk for kidney disease if you:

  • have diabetes
  • have high blood pressure
  • have a family history of chronic kidney disease
  • are older
  • belong to a population group that has a high rate of diabetes or high blood pressure, such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians.

The Northeast Kidney Foundation offers free community screenings and risk assessment programs that can identify kidney disease early on, when it’s most treatable.  For information on an upcoming program, contact info@healthykidneys.org or call 518-533-7880.

How to prevent chronic kidney disease.

One in three adults is at risk for chronic kidney disease, but the good news is that there are steps we can take that can help to prevent it, or help to slow it.

  • Know your risk factors.  Anyone with diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of chronic kidney disease is at increased risk!
  • Get regular check ups.  Blood and urine tests will tell you if you have early signs of kidney disease.  Early diagnosis is your best weapon in slowing the progression.
  • Control your blood pressure.  High blood pressure can damage your kidneys and increases your chance of developing kidney disease.  Medications and lifestyle changes can help keeop your blood pressure under control.
  • Control blood sugar.  High blood sugar makes the kidneys filter too much blood.  Over time, this can cause damage to the kidneys.  It is important to keep your glucose levels under control.  This can be done with medication and also through diet modification and exercise.
  • Don’t smoke!  Smoking affects every organ in the body including your kidneys.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.  Being overweight causes stress to your cardiovascular system.  
  • Eat right!  This includes choosing water as a beverage of choice!  The Northeast Kidney Foundation endorses the use of the DASH diet!  For more on the DASH diet click here.
  • Do not consume excess alcohol
  • Exercise.  There are multiple benefits to exercising regularly.  It helps to control high blood pressure and diabetes.  It can reduce cholesterol.  It builds strength and endurance, and can help prevent cardiovascular disease. There are many exercise options.  Find something that works for you.  
  • Do not overuse over the counter pain medication.  Excess amounts of these medications can decrease blood flow to the kidneys, which can harm kidney tissue.

Are you newly diagnosed with kidney disease? Empower yourself!

Being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be a very trying and difficult time for everyone involved—the patient, along with family and friends. But information can go a long way towards helping gain control of the situation. A patient who knows what’s coming up, what to watch out for and what treatment options are available if kidneys fail totally can help you make educated decisions about your healthcare.

  • At first, talk with your doctor about pinpointing your diagnosis to assess your kidney function to help plan your treatment. Tests are conducted to determine the stage and type of kidney disease, the size of the kidneys and the damage already done. After receiving these results, your doctor and you will need to sit down and create a plan of action.
  • People who have kidney disease also have an increased chance of developing heart problems. Therefore, one of the first things to do upon CKD diagnosis is to get control of other health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure and anemia.
  • If you have diabetes, you will need to monitor your blood sugar, follow a specific diet and take your medication as ordered by your doctor. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend you lose weight, cut down on salt in your diet and take your medication. Anemia (low blood count) can also lead to heart damage and may be controlled by taking a hormone called EPO and iron supplements. You should also have healthy cholesterol levels and not smoke.
  • Once your kidney disease and other health problems are under control, it is vital to track your progress. Your glomerular filtration rate (GFR) should be checked regularly to clarify the status of your kidney disease. Also, the amount of protein in your urine will be checked from time to time to make sure your kidneys are doing their job. Lastly, nutritional tests may be done to make sure you are getting enough protein and calories to maintain your overall health. Your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian who will help you plan your meals to get the right foods in the right amounts.
  • Consider attending the Northeast Kidney Foundation’s monthly Kidney Club meetings, where you can connect with other patients and family members.  Email info@healthykidneys.org for information on the next meeting or call 518-533-7880.

This material is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Medical questions cannot be answered via email. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations. Information above was provided by the National Kidney Foundation and is subject to copyright restrictions. One copy may be printed for personal use.

Kidney Information