What are Kidney Diseases?
Kidney diseases include any disease or medical issue that affects your kidneys. These conditions can impair one or both of your kidneys’ ability to function.
The term “kidney diseases” encompasses many different diseases. These can range from acute and treatable to serious and incurable. (1)
Race, gender, age, genetics as well as lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse are all risk factors for contracting chronic kidney disease. (2)
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on either side of your spine. They work to filter excess water and toxic waste from your blood.
These waste products are expelled from your body as urine. The kidneys also play a role in controlling your blood pressure and red blood cell production. (3)
The symptoms of kidney diseases can manifest as: (4)
Changes in urination can be a sign something is wrong with your kidneys. You might notice frequent urination or you could have trouble passing urine.
Urine that can be described as foamy or bubbly can suggest protein in the urine, a signal of kidney dysfunction. Another warning symptom is bloody urine.
If your kidneys aren’t functioning well, toxic waste can start to build up in your blood. This can result in fatigue and general loss of energy.
Anemia (lack of red blood cells) can occur in late stage kidney diseases. It is another symptom that can cause fatigue.
Swollen Feet, Ankles or Legs
Your body can retain sodium (salt) if your kidney function is impaired. This can result in your lower limbs swelling.
Swollen feet and ankles can be a signal of kidney disease and also other serious conditions (i.e. liver disease).
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite can be the result of many things. However, when combined with other telltale symptoms it could point towards kidney disease.
Your kidneys regulate certain chemicals in the body. These include phosphorus and calcium. If the level of these substances becomes irregular, you can experience muscle cramps.
There are numerous types of diseases that affect the kidneys. Some of these conditions, such as kidney stones, can respond to short term treatment. (5)
Other diseases including inherited conditions and deformations of the kidney can require long term management.
If you are suffering from abnormal kidney function for three months or more, you will likely be classified as having chronic kidney disease (CKD).
The stage of your CKD can be determined according to your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). This is acquired through a blood test.
The eGFR describes the rate at which your kidneys are filtering harmful waste out from your blood. It is measured in milliliters per minute, with anything over 90 millilitres per minute being normal.
The eGFR can also be calculated as a percentage. 100 percent indicates optimal function, and 0 percent describes no function at all.
The stages of CKD progress as follows: (6)
Your kidneys are working at 90 percent or higher according to your eGFR. There are no signs of impairment.
At this stage, there is a slight decrease in kidney function. Your kidneys are working to filter waste at between 60 to 89 percent.
There are few (if any) symptoms. If the disease is caught at this early stage, damage to the kidneys can be stopped or possibly reversed.
There is now a mild to moderate impairment of kidney function. By eGFR standards, your kidneys are working at between 45 and 60 percent.
You may begin to suffer from a lack of red blood cells (anemia). Bone disease can also start to manifest.
Once you have reached this level, you are categorized as having chronic kidney disease.
At stage 3b, your kidneys’ ability to filter waste is 30 to 44 percent. As with stage 3a, you might begin suffering from anemia or bone disease.
If you are within stage 3 (whether 3a or 3b) you will have to visit your doctor at least once a year.
It is important at this stage to monitor your kidney function and ensure the situation doesn’t get any worse.
By now, kidney function is severely affected. Your kidneys are working at between only 15 to 29 percent.
At this stage of the disease, your doctor will likely refer you to a nephrologist. This is a type of doctor that specializes in diseases of the kidney.
You may also begin to experience symptoms. These can range from mild (loss of appetite) to noticeable (vomiting). (7)
Your kidneys are working at 15 percent of normal filtering function or less. Stage 5 is typically referred to as end stage kidney disease.
At this point, your kidneys are beginning to fail. Severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain may manifest. (8)
If your doctor suspects you have a kidney disease, you will be subjected to tests to measure your kidney function.
To check on the overall health of your kidneys, your doctor will perform two tests. One test is for the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR).
This measures how well your kidneys are filtering waste, and involves taking blood. The other type of test is a urinalysis to check for protein in the urine.
If your kidneys are not working correctly, albumin – a type of protein – will show up in your urine.
Treatment for kidney diseases can include one or more of the following: (9)
A healthy lifestyle can improve life expectancy and quality for patients with chronic kidney disease.
Avoiding smoking, a good diet and regular exercise can all improve the outcome of your kidney disease.
Maintaining a healthy body weight was also found to reduce the risk of heart complications from kidney diseases. (10)
Most individuals with chronic kidney disease will have to take certain medications. These include drugs to manage your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
High blood pressure can cause more damage to your kidneys. However, even if your blood pressure is normal you may be prescribed blood pressure medication.
ARBs and ACE inhibitors are two varieties of blood pressure medication. Both have been shown to hinder the progress of kidney disease. (11)
Similarly, stable blood glucose levels can promote kidney health. If you are diabetic, you may have to take certain drugs to keep your blood sugar balanced. (12)
Certain kidney diseases may require surgery as part of treatment. Examples of two such conditions include kidney stones and polycystic kidney disease.
Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic condition causing cysts to grow in the kidneys. Surgery may be performed to reduce the number of cysts in the kidneys. (13)
Kidney stones are hard deposits which form inside your kidneys and can cause complications. They can be removed with minimally invasive surgical procedures. (14)
Dialysis is a treatment option for patients who have lost over 85 percent of kidney function. This treatment essentially takes over the role of your failing kidneys.
Dialysis removes waste from your body and balances chemicals in your blood. It also helps to control blood pressure, as your kidneys did.
This treatment can be performed at a hospital or your home. Dialysis must be done regularly for the rest of your life, usually several times a week. (15)
If you have end stage kidney disease, you may be eligible for a kidney transplant. A healthy kidney from a suitable donor will do the work of your failing kidneys.
Your new kidney can come from a spouse, friend or relative. It may also be from an organ donor who has recently passed away.
However, there is a serious shortage of available kidneys. If you receive a kidney transplant, you will have to take medication daily to ensure your body accepts the new organ. (16)
What are kidney diseases? Kidney diseases is a broad term which includes any condition impairing one or both of your kidneys’ ability to work.
What are the signs of kidney diseases? The signs of kidney diseases can include changes in urination, swelling in your lower limbs, fatigue and blood in your urine.
How do you develop kidney diseases? Kidney diseases can be caused by multiple factors, depending on the specific condition. The condition and cause determines how the disease will develop: for example, a urinary tract infection can spread up to the kidneys if untreated. (17)
What is the best treatment for kidney diseases? The best treatment plan depends on the specific disease. Treatment for kidney diseases can be short-term or long-term. They may include one or more of the following: medications, surgery, or dialysis. In severe cases, a kidney transplant might be required.
What are the long term complications of kidney diseases? Chronic kidney disease can lead to one or both of your kidneys failing. If your kidneys are unable to work on their own, you will require dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. (18)
Are kidney diseases considered a disability? You will be eligible for disability if your kidney disease is severe enough to prevent you from working. This includes: undergoing a kidney transplant within the last year, or chronic diseases requiring dialysis. (19)
Is there any cure for kidney diseases? In most cases, when the kidneys are already damaged by disease it can be difficult to reverse it. There are various treatment plans to support kidney function and reduce future damage. (20)
Are kidney diseases life threatening? Yes, kidney diseases can be life threatening as they can result in kidney failure. You cannot survive without at least one kidney.
Kidney diseases are often asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms. By the time you realize something is wrong, your kidney disease can be advanced.
A healthy lifestyle reduces your risk of kidney disease. If you have a family history of kidney disease, it is important to check kidney function regularly with your doctor.
The same is true of individuals above 60 years old and those with diabetes and heart conditions.
The earlier you catch a kidney disease, the better your prognosis will be. (21)