Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is one of the most common medical conditions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in seven Americans adults have CKD.
It’s wise to be aware of the signs of CKD, because it often goes undetected in the early stages. Left untreated, CKD can lead to kidney failure. That’s when your kidneys stop working altogether.
What Do Your Kidneys Do?
Your kidneys are two organs, each about the size of a computer mouse. Every 30 minutes, they filter all the blood in your body and help keep it in balance. Some of the jobs kidneys do include:
- Removing waste products from the blood.
- Removing extra water and toxins from the body.
- Helping to make red blood cells.
- Helping to control blood pressure.
- Regulating electrolyte balance.
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What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?
There’s no single cause of CKD. It happens when a disease or condition causes damage that makes it hard for the kidneys to function. Risk factors include:
- Family history of kidney disease.
- Being overweight.
- Heart disease.
- Being African-American, Native American, or Asian-American.
- Being older than 60.
Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease
The symptoms of early kidney disease are easy to miss. Some of them (like feeling tired) are symptoms of many other conditions.
Stages of chronic kidney disease
There are five stages of CKD. Doctors use a number called the estimated glomerular filtration rate to measure how well your kidneys are working.
Stage 1 is essentially normal kidney function. In early stage 3, there is mild injury to the kidneys, but they can filter waste from blood.
In the later stages, your kidneys have to work harder to filter the blood. Stage 5 is complete kidney failure.
Early CKD has few symptoms. Many people don’t realize they have CKD until the disease is in the advanced stages. Without treatment, it usually gets worse over time.
Signs that you might have CKD
- Your energy levels are low.
- You feel more tired than usual.
- Your appetite decreases.
- You’re not sleeping well.
- You’re getting up to urinate more than usual at night.
- Your skin feels dry.
- You can’t concentrate.
- Your feet and ankles are swollen.
But the only sure way to know you have CKD is to get tested. There are specific blood and urine tests that tell your doctor how well your kidneys are working.
Symptoms of Kidney Failure
CKD can eventually lead to kidney failure, where your kidneys stop working altogether. Because the kidneys can no longer do their job, fluid backs up in the body. The fluid buildup can cause high blood pressure, swelling in the arms and legs, and fluid in your lungs.
Signs of kidney failure
Look for these symptoms of kidney failure:
- Lack of energy.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Dry, itchy skin.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Frequent urination.
- Shortness of breath.
- Blood in urine.
- Foamy urine.
- Puffy eyes.
- Swollen feet and ankles.
- Lack of appetite.
- Muscle cramps.
Kidney failure is a serious condition that can lead to death. There’s no cure for kidney failure, but dialysis treatments may allow you to live a productive life. Depending on your overall health, you may qualify for a kidney transplant.
How to Maintain Good Kidney Health
Staying healthy and preventing the disease from happening in the first place is the best way to avoid CKD. But whether or not you have CKD, here are some things you can start doing right away to promote kidney health.
- Become more active to help control blood pressure and blood sugar.
- If you smoke, try to quit.
- Limit alcohol.
- If you’re overweight, try to lose weight.
- Get tested regularly for kidney disease. See a nephrologist (kidney doctor) if you have CKD.
- Keep your blood pressure under 140/90.
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range.
- Ask your doctor to test you for kidney disease, especially if you’re over 60.
- Eat a balanced diet and reduce intake of salty processed foods.
There’s no cure for CKD. But the earlier you catch it, the better your chances to slow the disease and manage the symptoms. Many people with CKD lead active, productive lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kidney Basics, Link
American Kidney Fund, Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease, Link
National Kidney Foundation, Early Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease, Link
National Kidney Foundation, What is Kidney Failure? Link
National Kidney Foundation, 10 Signs You May Have Kidney Disease, Link
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life. Our team of experts has a wide knowledge of heart conditions.