What is chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Kidneys are healthy when they work at their full capacity. Kidneys not only balance minerals in your body and remove waste and water from your blood, but also help control blood pressure, tell your body to produce red blood cells, keep bones strong and help children grow normally. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) happens when your kidneys stop functioning and can no longer rid the body of excess waste or perform other functions properly.

Diabetes and high blood pressure: Two main causes of chronic kidney disease

If you have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, it’s time for a look at what may have caused it and how the symptoms can be managed.

The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Diabetes is the number one cause of CKD. Hypertension is the second leading cause.

Diabetes can damage the kidneys when high blood sugar levels injure the tiny filters (glomeruli) of the kidneys, allowing protein to leak into the urine. This is usually a progressive condition that can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage that can affect the bladder, so you may not know that your bladder is full and needs to be emptied. The back pressure from a full bladder can damage the kidneys. Also, the longer urine remains in the bladder, the greater the risk of infection from bacteria. If your blood sugar level is high, bacteria can develop quickly.

When your blood pressure reading is 140 (top number, called systolic) over 90 (bottom number, called diastolic) or higher, you have high blood pressure. As blood pressure increases, it can damage the walls of tiny blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. Kidneys have many tiny blood vessels, so high blood pressure can damage the kidneys. It’s important to lower your high blood pressure, and your doctor may recommend a combination of weight loss, dietary modifications, exercise and medication.

Other causes of chronic kidney disease

Other causes of CKD are glomerulonephritis, genetic diseases such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), urologic diseases and autoimmune diseases. Your doctor can screen for these, and advise the best way to handle each one.

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

In the beginning stages, you may not have any symptoms of chronic kidney disease, but over time, the following may occur:

  • You notice changes in urination; amount, color, frequency and/or a feeling of pressure.
  • You notice swelling in your face, hands, legs or feet.
  • You feel more tired than usual.
  • Your skin is itchy and irritated.
  • Your breath is bad and/or you have a metallic taste in your mouth.
  • You experience nausea and vomiting due to the build up of waste in your system.
  • You become short of breath easily.
  • You feel cold all the time, even in warm temperatures.
  • Your ability to concentrate is reduced, or you experience dizziness.
  • You feel sharp pain through your legs, back or sides.

What do I do when I’ve been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease?

If you have just been diagnosed with CKD, there are things you can do to take charge of your health and manage the condition of your kidneys. Diet, exercise and lifestyle have a tremendous impact on how your kidney disease progresses. Communicating with your doctor and making appropriate changes in your lifestyle can be your best defense.

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