Information Provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
You’ve been told that you have chronic kidney disease (CKD). What does that mean? And what does it mean for your health and your life? This article will help answer some of the questions you might have.
You have two kidneys, each about the size of your fist. Their main job is to filter wastes and excess water out of your blood to make urine. They also keep the body’s chemical balance, help control blood pressure, and make hormones.
CKD means that your kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood like they should. This damage can cause wastes to build up in your body. It can also cause other problems that can harm your health.
CKD is often a “progressive” disease, which means it can get worse over time. CKD may lead to kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain health. You can take steps to keep your kidneys healthier longer:
- Choose foods with less salt (sodium).
- Keep your blood pressure at the level set by your health care provider.
- Keep your blood glucose in the target range, if you have diabetes.
What the Kidneys Do
How does my health care provider know I have CKD? Chances are, you feel normal and were surprised to hear that you have CKD. It is called a “silent” disease, because many people don’t have any symptoms until their kidneys are about to fail. The only way to know is to get your kidneys checked with blood and urine tests.
- A blood test checks your GFR, which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate.
- A urine test checks for albumin. Albumin is a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged.
These two tests are used to monitor CKD and make sure that treatment is working.
What causes CKD?
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of CKD. Your provider will look at your health history and may do other tests. You need to know why you have CKD, so your treatment can address the cause of the CKD.
What medicines are used to treat CKD?
People with CKD often take medicines to lower blood pressure, control blood glucose, and lower blood cholesterol. Two types of blood pressure medicines — ACE inhibitors and ARBs — may slow CKD and delay kidney failure, even in people who don’t have high blood pressure. Many people need to take two or more medicines for their blood pressure. They also may need to take a diuretic (water pill). The goal is to keep your blood pressure at the level set by your health care provider.
Do I need to change my medicines?
Some medicines are not safe for people with CKD. Other medicines need to be taken in smaller doses. Tell your provider about all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines (those you get without a prescription), vitamins, and supplements.
Can CKD affect my health in other ways?
People with CKD often have high blood pressure. They can also develop anemia (low number of red blood cells), bone disease, malnutrition, and heart and blood vessel diseases.
What tests will help track my CKD?
The blood and urine tests used to check for CKD are also used to monitor CKD. You need to keep track of your test results to see how you’re doing.
Track your blood pressure. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood glucose and keep it in your target range. Like high blood pressure, high blood glucose can be harmful to your kidneys. See CKD: Tracking My Test Results.
Will I have to go on dialysis?
Some people live with CKD for years without going on dialysis. Others progress quickly to kidney failure. You may delay dialysis if you follow your provider’s advice on medicine, diet, and lifestyle changes.
If your kidneys fail, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain health. Most people with kidney failure are treated with dialysis.
Will I be able to get a kidney transplant instead of going on dialysis?
Some people with kidney failure may be able to receive a kidney transplant. The donated kidney can come from someone you don’t know who has recently died, or from a living person — a relative, spouse, or friend. A kidney transplant isn’t for everyone. You may have a condition that makes the transplant surgery dangerous or not likely to succeed.
Join us next month for part 2 of this article. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). For more information, visit: www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov.
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