Family Health
kidney disorders|Loss of Appetite|Nephrologic|weakness

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Last Updated August 2022 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

What is chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) occurs from progressive damage to your kidneys. The damage occurs slowly, over time. Normal, healthy kidneys remove waste and extra water from the blood. Then, your body removes the waste in your urine. Kidneys help to control your blood pressure and make hormones. If you have CKD, your kidneys cannot remove waste from the blood as well as they should. Almost 20 million people in the United States have this disease.

Symptoms of CKD

Most people who have CKD do not have symptoms early on. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Swelling of feet and ankles

What causes CKD?

The most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Infections and urinary blockages can cause CKD as well.

CKD may be genetic (run in families). You may be at risk of CKD if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. It is important to diagnose CKD early.

How is CKD diagnosed?

Your doctor can review your symptoms and do an exam. There are 3 tests they may do if they suspect CKD:

  • Blood pressure test: Checks for high blood pressure.
  • Urine albumin: Checks to see how much protein is in your urine.
  • Serum creatinine: Checks to see how much waste is in your blood.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) does not currently recommend screening for CKD in adults who don’t have symptoms. However, if you are at high risk of CKD, talk to your doctor to see if you should be tested.

Can CKD be prevented or avoided?

If you are at risk of CKD, there are things you can do to prevent it:

  • Lower your blood pressure. Medicines called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-II receptor blockers can help. They also can keep kidney damage from getting worse.
  • Manage your blood sugar level if you have diabetes. This often includes taking medicine and making changes to diet and exercise.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking damages your kidneys and raises blood pressure. It can interfere with blood pressure medicines.
  • Eat healthy and exercise.
  • Lose weight.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption.
  • Drink lots of water and make sure you stay hydrated.
  • Reduce your salt intake.

CKD Treatment

Treatment for CKD depends on the cause of your condition. CKD can cause other problems. Talk with your doctor about how to treat these. They may have you take medicine for:

  • High triglycerides and cholesterol. Triglycerides are a type of fat. These levels often are higher in people who have CKD.
  • Anemia. Anemia occurs when your blood doesn’t have enough hemoglobin. This is a protein that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired and weak.
  • Weak bones. CKD can change the way your body uses minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus. This can cause your bones to weaken.

People who have CKD may lose their appetite. A nutritionist can help you plan a diet that will keep you strong. Talk to your doctor about CKD and nutrition. He or she may want you to eat less protein. Too much protein can make your kidneys work too hard. Proper hydration is important, too. Make sure you are drinking enough water.

Living with CKD

Even with the right treatments, CKD can get worse over time. You need to have regular checkups so your doctor can check your kidney function.

If your kidneys stop working, you have kidney failure. This can cause waste to build up in your body and poison your blood. It can cause vomiting, weakness, confusion, and coma. Kidney failure is treated with dialysis. A special machine filters your blood to remove the waste build-up. Dialysis may be done in a clinic or hospital setting. Some dialysis machines are small enough to strap to your body and use at home.

People with CKD should also avoid taking NSAIDs (non-steriodal anti-inflammatory medications).

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is the cause of my CKD?
  • Is there a special diet I need to follow?
  • Do I need to lose weight?
  • What treatment is best for me?
  • Will I need to do dialysis?
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