WHAT IS CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE (CKD)?
Chronic kidney disease includes conditions that damage your kidneys and decrease their ability to keep you healthy by doing the jobs listed. If kidney disease gets worse, wastes can build to high levels in your blood and make you feel sick. You may develop complications like high blood pressure, anemia (low blood count), weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage. Also, kidney disease increases your risk of having heart and blood vessel disease. These problems may happen slowly over a long period of time. Chronic kidney disease may be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure and other disorders. Early detection and treatment can often keep chronic kidney disease from getting worse. When kidney disease progresses, it may eventually lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life.
What causes CKD?
The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, which are responsible for up to two-thirds of the cases. Diabetes happens when your blood sugar is too high, causing damage to many organs in your body, including the kidneys and heart, as well as blood vessels, nerves and eyes. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the pressure of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels increases. If uncontrolled, or poorly controlled, high blood pressure can be a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. Also, chronic kidney disease can cause high blood pressure.
Other conditions that affect the kidneys are:
- Glomerulonephritis, a group of diseases that cause inflammation and damage to the kidney's filtering units. These disorders are the third most common type of kidney disease.
- Inherited diseases, such as polycystic kidney disease, which causes large cysts to form in the kidneys and damage the surrounding tissue.
- Malformations that occur as a baby develops in its mother's womb. For example, a narrowing may occur that prevents normal outflow of urine and causes urine to flow back up to the kidney. This causes infections and may damage the kidneys.
- Lupus and other diseases that affect the body's immune system.
- Obstructions caused by problems like kidney stones, tumors or an enlarged prostate gland in men.
- Repeated urinary infections.
What are the symptoms of CKD?
Most people may not have any severe symptoms until their kidney disease is advanced. However, you may notice that you:
- Feel more tired and have less energy
- Have trouble concentrating
- Have a poor appetite
- Have trouble sleeping
- Have muscle cramping at night
- Have swollen feet and ankles
- Have puffiness around your eyes, especially in the morning
- Have dry, itchy skin
- Need to urinate more often, especially at night.
Anyone can get chronic kidney disease at any age. However, some people are more likely than others to develop kidney disease. You may have an increased risk for kidney disease if you:
- Have diabetes
- Have high blood pressure
- Have a family history of kidney failure
- Are older
- Belong to a population group that has a high rate of diabetes or high blood pressure, such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians.
The earlier kidney disease is detected, the better the chance of slowing or stopping its progression.
What happens if my test results show I may have chronic kidney disease?
Your doctor will want to pinpoint your diagnosis and check your kidney function to help plan your treatment. The doctor may do the following:
- Calculate your Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR), which is the best way to tell how much kidney function you have. You do not need to have another test to know your GFR. Your doctor can calculate it from your blood creatinine, your age, race, gender and other factors. Your GFR tells your doctor your stage of kidney disease and helps the doctor plan your treatment.
- Perform an ultrasound or CT scan to get a picture of your kidneys and urinary tract. This tells your doctor whether your kidneys are too large or too small, whether you have a problem like a kidney stone or tumor and whether there are any problems in the structure of your kidneys and urinary tract.
- Perform a kidney biopsy, which is done in some cases to check for a specific type of kidney disease, see how much kidney damage has occurred and help plan treatment. To do a biopsy, the doctor removes small pieces of kidney tissue and looks at them under a microscope.
ANEMIA AND CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE
What is anemia?
Anemia happens when your red blood cells are in short supply. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body, giving you the energy you need for your daily activities.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
Anemia can cause you to:
- Look pale
- Feel tired
- Have little energy for your daily activities
- Have a poor appetite
- Have trouble sleeping
- Have trouble thinking clearly
- Feel dizzy or have headaches
- Have a rapid heartbeat
- Feel short of breath
- Feel depressed or "down in the dumps"
Why do people with kidney disease get anemia?
Your kidneys make an important hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). Hormones are chemical messengers that travel to tissues and organs to help you stay healthy. EPO tells your body to make red blood cells. When you have kidney disease, your kidneys cannot make enough EPO. Low EPO levels cause your red blood cell count to drop and anemia to develop.
Most people with kidney disease will develop anemia. Anemia can happen early in the course of kidney disease and grow worse as kidneys fail and can no longer make EPO. Anemia is especially common if you:
- Have diabetes
- Are Black American
- Have moderate or severe loss of kidney function (CKD stage 3 or 4)
- Have kidney failure (stage 5)
- Are female
How do I know if I have anemia?
Not everyone with anemia has symptoms. If you have kidney disease, you should have a blood test to measure your hemoglobin level at least once a year to check for anemia. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. If your hemoglobin is too low, it is likely you have anemia. In that case, your healthcare provider will check to find the exact cause of your anemia and plan a treatment that is right for you.
How do you treat anemia?
Your treatment will depend on the exact cause of your anemia.
If your anemia is due to kidney disease, your healthcare provider will treat you with:
- Drugs called erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESAs)
ESAs help your body make red blood cells. Your healthcare provider will give the ESA to you as an injection under the skin.
- Extra iron
Your body also needs iron to make red blood cells?especially when you are receiving ESAs. Without enough iron, your ESA treatment will not work as well. Your healthcare provider may give you iron to take as a pill. Another way to receive iron is directly into a vein in your doctor's office or clinic.
© 2015 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.