Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
The kidneys perform vital functions for our bodies to survive. This pair of bean-shaped organs sits at the lower back, each occupying space to the right and left of the spine.
Think of the kidneys as filters for the body. They are composed of over a million microscopic blood-filtering mechanisms called nephrons. Within each of these lies loops of blood vessels that allow the passage of water but hold on to blood cells. The tubules attached to these loops collect fluid and molecules that have passed through the loops of blood vessels, reabsorbing what the body needs and eliminating the rest as waste products through urination.
Through this process of extracting useful molecules and dispelling excess or harmful waste products, the kidneys regulate the body’s balance – chemically and hormonally. Kidneys regulate all sorts of substances necessary for life, including potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and more. While these minerals are crucial to life itself, an imbalance (too much or too little), may throw the body’s system completely out of whack and potentially lead to a critical situation like end-stage renal disease.
Kidney disease occurs when any number of the kidney’s functions fail to work properly and, if left untreated, can lead to kidney failure. This disease is more of an umbrella term, referencing any dysfunction occurring within the kidneys. Simply put, chronic kidney disease is the kidneys’ inability to execute necessary functions that keep the body healthy and alive.
Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease
Many things can cause chronic kidney disease, from genetic risk factors to lifestyle, here are the most common causes of kidney disease.
- Diabetes. Type 1 or type 2 diabetes can lead to kidney disease. Both types of diabetes hinder the body from regulating blood-sugar levels on its own in an effective way. When blood sugar spikes (hyperglycemia) the kidneys as well as other organs and tissues (the liver, blood vessels, and heart) are overworked and can eventually fail.
- High blood pressure. This is one of the highest causes of kidney disease, but many residents of the United States are living each day with high blood pressure. High blood pressure causes the blood vessels to constrict over time, limiting blood flow to all parts of the body – kidneys included. With damaged or constricted blood vessels, the kidneys can no longer effectively filter out unnecessary molecules, leading to build-up and harmfully high levels of certain minerals.
- Glomerulonephritis. This disease specifically targets the kidneys’ filtering units – the glomeruli. The cause of Glomerulonephritis isn’t known but it’s hypothesized that inheritance or infection may be to blame.
- Interstitial nephritis. Causing swelling between the kidneys’ tubules, interstitial nephritis is typically acute, brought on by allergic reactions or autoimmune disorders. When the tubules swell, they can no longer function properly, slowing down or halting the kidney’s filtering process.
- Kidney stones. While kidney stones certainly aren’t a leading cause, they can damage the kidneys all the same and eventually contribute to the kidneys’ inability to function. These occur when calcium build-up creates small stones that one most typically passes through urination. They can be painful and may indicate a poor diet.
- Kidney infections. Pyelonephritis is a kidney infection that starts as a UTI and travels up the urethra tract, eventually infecting the kidneys. It’s crucial to seek treatment for a urinary tract infection immediately to prevent a kidney infection.
- Vesicoureteral. This type of reflux occurs when urine travels back up from the bladder to the kidneys. This backflow can lead to infection which can inhibit the kidneys from functioning normally. Children are most at risk.
- Nephropathy. Those with diabetes are prone to developing nephropathy – a disease in which the kidneys’ blood vessels are damaged, hindering blood flow and halting kidney function.
Signs and symptoms of kidney disease
Because there is no specific kidney disease, rather poor or hindered kidney function, signs and symptoms can vary drastically from person to person. Additionally, chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be slow in its progression, showing only minor signs that can be linked to a host of other ailments. Acute kidney injury can cause symptoms to appear suddenly and requires treatment immediately.
However, there are distinctive markers that can point to signs of kidney dysfunction. These are:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty urinating or sudden infrequency in urination
- Discolored or frothy urine, sometimes marked with abnormal discharge
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling and/or puffiness around the wrist, eyes, ankles, and other joints
- Chest pain
- Blood in the urine
- Darkened skin
- Lower back pain
Risk Factors Contributing to Kidney Disease
Since the kidneys are one of the body’s main filtering mechanisms, whatever we put into our sensitive system passes through the kidneys. Kidney function depends on many sensitive systems working in conjunction. A variety of risk factors, including lifestyle choices, may make one more susceptible to developing kidney disease later in life.
- Alcohol consumption
- Abnormal structure
- Family history
- Poor diet
Complications from Kidney Disease
For those with chronic kidney disease, life can be severely impacted. Kidney function can begin to degenerate slowly, but as time goes on and the disease worsens, the following complications may arise.
- Fluid retention. If the kidneys are failing to release waste in the form of urine, fluid can quickly build up. Swelling in the arms, legs, and ankles can be uncomfortable at the very least. Fluid retention can also lead to high blood pressure or a build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
- Cardiovascular disease. When related to kidney disease, this can be caused by a sudden rise in potassium levels (hyperkalemia) which can cause acute heart problems and a life-threatening situation.
- Weak bones. Calcium, potassium, and other minerals are necessary for bones to remain strong throughout life. If the kidney isn’t functioning properly and absorbing what the bones need, weak or brittle bones may result.
- Anemia. A lack of red blood cells inhibits oxygen flow to the rest of the body, leading to excessive fatigue.
- Erectile dysfunction. narrowed blood vessels all over their body, can cause a reduction in the blood supply to the penis, making it difficult to get and maintain an erection.
- Reduced fertility.
- Damage to the central nervous system. This can cause changes in personality, trouble concentrating, and even seizures.
- Decreased immune response.
- Kidney damage.
- Renal failure.
Kidney disease is a serious condition that affects a large portion of Americans, young and old. If left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure. Fortunately, it can be managed and treated if caught early on. While chronic kidney disease (CKD) is not curable, a happy, healthy life is still possible with treatment.
Preventative Measures for Minimizing Risk of Kidney Disease
- Follow instructions on all OTC medication, especially pain relievers like ibuprofen, medication with acetaminophen, and other NSAIDs.
- Stay healthy and active. Try to maintain a healthy weight for your age and physical ability. This can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and obesity – two risk factors of kidney disease.
- Stay away from cigarettes and limit alcohol consumption. Each of these causes the body to work differently when processing added toxins, which can eventually lead to damage or dysfunction.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of kidney disease and prevention of kidney failure requires a doctor’s participation. Consult with your trusted health care professional if you’re experiencing symptoms. They may perform a blood test, urine test, imaging test, or perform a kidney biopsy to determine whether or not you have kidney disease.
For example, blood and urine tests can expose elevated creatinine levels. Creatinine is a byproduct produced by muscles and is typically filtered out with other waste. Poor kidney function can lead to a build-up of creatinine, signifying to your doctor the onset of kidney disease.
Once diagnosed, treatment varies on a case by case basis. Your doctor will most likely work to slow the cause of your particular case of kidney disease. For example, if high blood pressure is to blame, he or she may prescribe blood pressure medication and continue monitoring blood flow to stay on top of the development CKD. Diuretics, cholesterol medication, and even a low-protein diet may be the treatment necessary for slowing the progression of kidney disease.
Kidney Failure and Dialysis
For end-stage CKD, many patients are treated through dialysis. Patients are hooked up to a dialysis machine that performs the kidneys’ functions for them. Dialysis works to filter out water and blood, removing excess toxins and replacing the fluid in the body. While this certainly hinders one’s quality of life, dialysis is a life-saving practice and can be extremely beneficial to those awaiting a kidney transplant.
A kidney transplant can also be performed in which one or two healthy kidneys are taken from an organ donor and transplanted in place of damaged kidneys. If successful, the patient with kidney failure will no longer have to undergo dialysis, however, they will remain on anti-rejection drugs for the remainder of their life.
Next Steps and Booking an Appointment
Establishing a care plan with an Orlando Nephrologist can be the first step towards kidney health and function. Since the disease can progress slowly, it’s important that your doctor has a comprehensive understanding of your overall health and medical history.
UCF Health’s network of medical professionals has extensive experience and knowledge in dealing with chronic diseases, including kidney disease. Our patient portal empowers individuals to learn more about preventative measures and how to cultivate healthy habits. It also provides COVID-19 updates for patients so that our community may stay up to date on the latest coronavirus news. The online scheduling tool makes it easy and convenient for individuals to book an appointment with a healthcare professional.