This chronic disease affects more people than you may realize. Could you be one of them?
Chronic kidney disease is a condition in which your kidneys become damaged and gradually lose their ability to filter blood properly so that waste and excess fluid can be excreted in your urine. When this happens, dangerous levels of waste and fluid can build up in your body, making you feel sick. Over time, kidney disease can contribute to other health conditions. It may also lead to kidney failure. Once this happens, you will either need dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to stay alive.
This serious health condition is often not on people's radar, but it should be because it's more common than you may think. About 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for developing kidney disease. More than 1 in 7 adults already have the disease. But approximately 90% of the people who have the condition don't know they have it.
How do I know if I have kidney disease?
Most people don't have symptoms in the early stages of kidney disease. It is not until the disease becomes more advanced that you may start to feel sick, and many symptoms may be attributed to other causes. Symptoms of more advanced kidney disease may include:
- Swollen feet/ankles
- Fatigue/sleep problems
- Dry, itchy skin
- Muscle cramps
- Urinating too much or too little
- Nausea/vomiting/loss of appetite
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Erectile dysfunction or reduced sex drive
- Shortness of breath (due to fluid in the lungs)
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Weak bones
- Hard-to-control high blood pressure
The best way to know for sure if you have kidney disease is through blood and/or urine tests that measure kidney function. If you are at an increased risk for the disease, your doctor may periodically order these tests and routinely monitor your blood pressure. Imaging tests or biopsies may also be recommended to help determine what's causing your kidney problem.
What increases my risk for kidney disease?
The two most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. Other risk factors include:
- Prolonged use of medications that can damage kidneys
- Cardiovascular disease
- Abnormal kidney structure
- Having other conditions that affect your kidneys or urinary tract
- Advanced age
- Family history of kidney disease
- Being African, Native or Asian American
Although you can't control all risk factors for kidney disease, there are some you can do something about. Maintain a healthy weight, don't smoke and follow instructions for any medications you take. Be especially careful about taking too many over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
What happens if I have kidney disease?
There is no cure for chronic kidney disease, but treatment focuses on slowing progression of the damage to your kidneys. Since kidney damage is often due to other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, controlling the conditions that cause kidney damage is the first line of defense. Treatment will also include trying to manage symptoms and reduce complications. If you develop kidney failure, you may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
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Date Last Reviewed: January 19, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD