According to the CDC, more than 1 in 7, that is 15% of U.S. adults or 37 million people, are estimated to have chronic kidney disease (CKD). As many as 9 in 10 adults with CKD do not know they have it, and roughly 2 in 5 adults with severe CKD do not know they have CKD. Every year millions die prematurely of complications related to the disease. The leading causes are diabetes and high blood pressure, although other risk factors also play a role. In today’s post, we’ll explore risk factors, symptoms, and treatment of chronic kidney disease.
The kidneys are vital to help your body remove waste and maintain balance of the fluids in your body. Early stages of chronic kidney disease may not result in any symptoms, and many people do not realize they have the disease until the later stages. This is why it is important to understand the risk factors and be active in your healthcare so that you are aware of how your individual health may be impacted.
Do not wait for symptoms. If CKD is found in the early stage, medicine and regular tests can help manage the disease and prevent it from progressing to later stages. Very often, CKD is diagnosed because of testing for another health concern and blood or urine tests reveal a potential problem. Get checked for kidney disease if you have any of these risk factors, even if you don’t have symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- A family history of kidney failure
- Are obese or overweight
- Are Black, Native American or Asian American
- Have a family history of kidney disease
- Abnormal kidney structure or other health issues involving the kidneys
- Older age
- Frequent use of medications that can damage the kidneys
Chronic kidney disease is a gradual loss of kidney function, which is why in the early stages, symptoms are often overlooked. Elevated glucose levels over a prolonged period can damage your kidneys, leaving them unable to adequately filter wastes and extra fluid from your blood. People that have diabetes and are not managing their glucose levels can ultimately end up in the early stages of chronic kidney disease. This is why those with diabetes should speak to their providers about early and regular testing to follow any potential progression of CKD. If CKD does develop as a result of diabetes, the first sign may be protein in your urine. Healthy kidneys are able to keep a protein called albumin, from passing from your blood into your urine. But when there is kidney damage, albumin is able to enter the urine and can be detected using a urine test.
Those that have cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure are also at increased risk of CKD. This is due to higher blood pressure damaging blood vessels in the kidneys, resulting in them working less effectively. Over time, waste and extra fluids from the body can build up, raise blood pressure even more and lead to a cycle of high blood pressure escalating the damage to the kidneys, which then further increases blood pressure. Over time, this can lead to more serious stages of CKD. Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and other health issues, so if you’re a smoker, speak to your provider about testing to help determine how well your kidneys are functioning (and to work towards quitting smoking for overall improved health).
While early stages of CKD often don’t have symptoms, as the disease progresses, symptoms can include:
- weight loss and poor appetite
- swollen ankles, feet or hands – as a result of water retention (edema)
- shortness of breath
- blood in your pee (urine)
- an increased need to pee – particularly at night
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- itchy skin
- muscle cramps
- feeling sick
- erectile dysfunction in men
These symptoms can be due to many issues and not just CKD, so don’t panic. But definitely seek medical attention to define if renal disease is the cause so appropriate measures can be taken. If they are due to the last stages of CKD it could mean end-stage renal disease or established renal failure that may eventually require treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Your health care provider will use a blood test to check your kidney function. The results designate how well your kidneys are functioning based on the glomerular filtration rate through the kidneys or the GFR. Age, sex and race – specifically the Black population- has been used for decades to define this number. After recent scrutiny as to its validity, most labs have now removed race as a criteria. There are five stages chronic kidney disease, which you can read about in detail here. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases shares the following information about GFR levels :
- a GFR of 60 or more is in the normal range. Ask your health care provider when your GFR should be checked again.
- a GFR of less than 60 may mean you have kidney disease. Talk with your health care provider about how to keep your kidney health at this level.
- a GFR of 15 or less is called kidney failure. Most people below this level need dialysis or a kidney transplant. Talk with your health care provider about your treatment options.
Early detection is key, and if detected early and managed, the progression of CKD and any kidney damage can be reduced and potentially stopped altogether. Sources share that the main treatments are a proper diet and medications, and for those who reach ESRD (end stage renal disease), long term dialysis treatment or kidney transplantation. Treatment in the early stages of kidney disease include a balanced diet and medications to help to maintain kidney functions. Once in the realm of kidney failure, wastes and fluids accumulate in your body and you need dialysis treatments to remove these wastes and excess fluid from your blood. Some patients may be candidates for a kidney transplant, and with addition of medications and a healthy diet, may reach normal kidney function.
Understanding your risk factors and maintaining routine health checks with your provider are essential to early detection of CKD as well as many other health issues. Don’t wait until symptoms start before you address any potential problem- make your health a priority and establish routine, preventative care to support your wellness.