When you think about the health of your kidneys, you probably only think about how hard they work after a night of drinking alcohol. But, regardless if you partake in adult beverages or not, your kidneys are working diligently to remove waste and excess fluid from your blood. This helps your body maintain a healthy amount of water, salt, and minerals — such as sodium, potassium, and more. However, chronic conditions can cause your kidneys to shut down slowly. One such threat is chronic kidney disease.
What is chronic kidney disease?
Chronic kidney disease — also known as chronic kidney failure or CKD — is the gradual loss of your kidney’s function. If chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage, then dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes, and wastes can build up in your body. This can cause complications and even become fatal if ignored.
Signs and symptoms may develop during the early stages of CKD, but they can sometimes be difficult to spot. That’s why some people don’t know their kidneys are failing until their function is impaired.
Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease
Signs associated with chronic kidney disease develop slowly over time and sometimes don’t appear until damage is irreversible. Symptoms are commonly nonspecific to the condition, so you may experience symptoms but think it’s a sign of other illnesses. That’s why it’s important to check with your doctor if you have several signs of CKD. Common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Insomnia or other sleeping problems
- Changes in urination
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Muscle twitches and cramps
- Swelling of feet and ankles
- Persistent itching
- Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
- Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
- High blood pressure that’s difficult to control
Risk Factors of Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease is commonly caused by other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions can overwork the kidneys and damage them over time. But, other factors can also increase your risk of developing CKD. Additional risk factors include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Race — such as African-American, Native American, or Asian-American
- Family history of kidney disease
- Abnormal kidney structure
- Older age
Diagnosis & Treatment Options for CKD
Typically, chronic kidney disease is diagnosed during a blood or urine test. If you have symptoms of CKD, your doctor will order one or both of these tests to determine your condition and rule out other possibilities. Once diagnosed, your treatment plan will be created based on the amount of damage, which stage of CKD you’re in, and the cause of your CKD.
Kidney damage can worsen even when an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, has been controlled. But, treating these conditions can help with symptoms and improve comfortability. Common treatment options for kidneys that still partially function include:
- High blood pressure medications
- Medications to lower cholesterol levels
- Medications to treat anemia
- Medications to relieve swelling
- Medications to protect your bones
- A lower protein diet to minimize waste products in your blood
If your kidneys have nearly shut down completely and can’t keep up with waste and fluid clearance on their own, then your treatment options become limited. You’ll either need some form of dialysis — whether hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis — or a kidney transplant. You should talk to your physician about these treatment options to determine the best health plan for you.
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