Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

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What is chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Chronic kidney disease occurs when your kidneys are damaged and no longer work as well as they should. Normal, healthy kidneys remove waste from the blood. The waste then leaves your body in your urine. The kidneys also help control blood pressure and make red blood cells. If you have chronic kidney disease, your kidneys cannot remove waste from the blood as well as they should. Almost 20 million people in the United States have this disease.


What are the symptoms of CKD?

Most people don’t have any symptoms early in the disease. Once the disease progresses, the symptoms can include the following:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling weak
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not sleeping
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes CKD?

The most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Chronic kidney disease can also be caused by infections or urinary blockages.

Am I at risk for CKD?

You may be at risk if someone in your family has CKD or if you have diabetes or if you have high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. It is important to diagnose CKD early.

Diagnosis & Tests

How can my doctor tell if I have CKD?

There are three simple tests that your doctor might do if he or she suspects you might have chronic kidney disease:

  • Blood pressure test
  • Urine albumin (a test to see how much protein is in the urine)
  • Serum creatinine (a test to see how much creatinine, a waste product, is in the blood)

Screening for chronic kidney disease in all adults is not currently recommended. If you have a condition that puts you at very high risk for chronic kidney disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested.


I have CKD. What can I do to prevent or slow down problems?

Your doctor will talk to you about treating the problems that damaged the kidneys.

If you have high blood pressure, it is important to lower your blood pressure. Medicines called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-II receptor blockers can be helpful. These medicines lower blood pressure and may help keep your kidney disease from getting worse. Exercise and a healthy diet can also help to lower your blood pressure.

If you have diabetes, your doctor will tell you what to do to keep your blood sugar level normal. You will probably need to change your diet, get more exercise and/or take medicine.

If you smoke, you must quit. Smoking damages the kidneys. It also raises blood pressure and interferes with medicines used to treat high blood pressure.

Your doctor may also want you to eat less protein. Too much protein can make the kidneys work too hard.

You will need to have regular checkups so your doctor can check how your kidneys are working and treat problems caused by CKD.

How else is CKD treated?

Chronic kidney disease can cause other problems. Talk with your doctor about how you can treat these other problems. He or she may have you take medicine to treat:

  • High triglyceride (say: “try-gliss-er-eyed”) and cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat. Triglyceride levels often are higher in people who have kidney disease.
  • Anemia. Anemia occurs when your blood doesn’t have enough hemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body). Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired and weak.
  • Weak bones. CKD can also change the way your body uses minerals such as calcium and phosphorus that are used to make bone. Your doctor may have you avoid certain foods to help your body use these minerals better.

If you have chronic kidney disease, you may lose your appetite. A nutritionist can help you plan a diet that will keep you strong.

Learn More About Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) Treatment


What happens when CKD gets worse?

Even with the right treatments, CKD can get worse over time. Your kidneys could stop working. This is called kidney failure. If this happens, waste builds up in your body and acts like a poison. This poisoning can cause vomiting, weakness, confusion and coma.

If your kidneys have failed, your doctor will send you for dialysis (say: “die-al-uh-sis”). During dialysis, a special machine is used to filter the blood and remove waste that builds up. One kind of dialysis has to be done in a clinic. For another kind of dialysis, the machine is so small it can be strapped to your body while you go about your daily activities. If you need dialysis, your doctor will talk with you about which kind of dialysis machine you can use.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What treatment is best for me?
  • What is causing my kidney disease?
  • Should I follow a special diet?
  • What exercise is best for me?
  • Do I need to lose weight?
  • Will I need dialysis?
  • Can chronic kidney disease be cured?
  • Will I continue to get worse?
  • Are there any medicines I should take?
  • Will I need a kidney transplant?