Kidney disease is one of the most common health problems in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 15% of American adults are living with chronic kidney disease (CKD).
One of the most challenging aspects of CKD is that there are very few symptoms in the early stages. Most people don’t notice signs of kidney disease until the disease becomes advanced, and their kidneys aren’t working well.
What Do Your Kidneys Do?
Your kidneys play an important part in your overall health. These two organs, each about the size of a computer mouse, filter your entire blood volume every 30 minutes.
Your kidneys remove waste, toxins, and excess fluid from your body. They also help control your blood pressure, make red blood cells, and regulate blood chemicals. So, when your kidneys aren’t working well, it’s cause for concern.
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What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?
CKD happens when the kidneys become damaged and cannot filter blood properly. Excess fluid, toxins, and waste stay in the body instead of passing in the urine. This can damage kidneys and contribute to other health problems, like heart disease and stroke.
Who gets CKD?
You are also more likely to get CKD if you:
- Are obese.
- Have a family history of CKD.
- Have heart disease.
Signs of Kidney Disease
The signs of kidney disease are subtle in the early stages. That is because your kidneys can still function even with a significant amount of damage. Most people do not notice any symptoms until the disease is more advanced.
Some signs of kidney disease are general and could also be signs of another condition. Your doctor can check for kidney disease with blood and urine tests. You should see a doctor if you have one or more of the following symptoms.
- Fatigue. When your kidneys do not work well, toxins build up in the blood. That can make you feel groggy, weak, and tired.
- Insomnia. Although CKD can make you feel more tired, the toxins in your blood may also interfere with good sleep.
- Muscle cramps. Poor kidney function can lead to electrolyte imbalances. The wrong amounts of minerals, like calcium and phosphorus, in the blood can lead to muscle cramps.
- Dry, itchy skin. If the kidneys are not working right, the imbalance of minerals in the blood can cause dry, itchy skin.
- Loss of appetite. A buildup of toxins in the blood can make you feel less hungry.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED). ED has many causes — including prostate problems, high blood pressure, and relationship problems. But it can also happen when your kidneys are not working right.
- The need to urinate more often. Needing to go to the bathroom frequently — especially at night — can be a sign of prostate problems or a urinary tract infection. But damaged kidney filters can also cause an increase in the urge to urinate.
- Blood in your urine. Blood cells start to leak into the urine when the kidneys are not filtering properly. Blood in the urine can also be a symptom of another problem, like an infection, kidney stones, or cancer.
- Foamy urine. If the kidneys are not working right, protein leaks into the urine instead of getting filtered out. The protein causes foamy urine — more than just a single layer of bubbles that disappears quickly from the toilet bowl.
- Swollen ankles and feet. If your kidneys do not filter out enough sodium, it collects in the blood and can cause swelling in different parts of your body. You will most often notice the swelling (also called edema) in the feet and ankles.
How Does CKD Progress?
CKD usually gets worse as time goes by. Untreated, CKD can eventually progress to kidney failure, where the kidneys cannot function.
If you have kidney failure, you may need to be on dialysis for the rest of your life. The other option is a kidney transplant.
However, the earlier you treat CKD, the better. Lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier and exercising, can help you manage CKD and slow its progression.
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