What Is Kidney Disease?
Before discussing the topic of, what is kidney disease, let’s have a short review of the function of the kidney in our body to provide context to the problems posed by chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Basic Kidney Functions
Kidneys are bean-shaped organs located below the rib cage and are present on both the right and left side of your spinal column. The kidneys work like strainers and blood passes through them. One of their functions is to filter the waste from our bodies and their other function is getting rid of extra fluids that need to be taken out of our system. Those filtered wastes and fluids become urine and flow towards the bladder. They are then emptied through urination.
Another role the kidneys play is regulating pH and salt balances. Organs can excrete excess acids in the bodily fluids. Also, kidneys maintain the electrolyte balance so that all the cells can function normally.
Blood pressure regulation is another important function of the kidney and it is done through secretion of an enzyme called renin, which mediates the constriction of arteries during low blood pressure status. Kidneys are also capable of conserving water to maintain the fluid volume in the human body.
Lastly, kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin when there is a low red blood cell (RBC) count. The erythropoietin will then stimulate the bone marrow to produce a greater number of RBCs.
What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?
It is a condition where the kidneys cannot perform all the function listed above. It is labeled as chronic because the damage does not happen within a day or week; it occurs slowly over a long period.
According to a Medscape, the causes of CKD include the following:
- Vascular disease
- Primary or secondary glomerular diseases
- Cystic kidney disease
- Tubulointerstitial disease
- Urinary tract obstruction or dysfunction
- Recurrent kidney stone disease
- Congenital kidney or bladder defects
- Unrecovered acute kidney injury
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Disease?
Unfortunately, people who have CKD stages 1 to 3 frequently do not experience symptoms, such as water and electrolyte imbalances or disturbances in the endocrine or metabolic function of the body. If the affected person is showing symptoms like polyuria (an increase in amount of urine output), hematuria (the presence of blood in urine) and edema (the swelling of body pars due to excessive fluid in the body), they are more likely to develop signs of CKD at earlier stages.
When a person is already in the advanced stages of CKD, they may have the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Dry skin
- Itching or numbness
- Increased or decreased urination
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Weight loss
How Is Kidney Disease Diagnosed?
Doctors will take a medical history followed by a physical examination. Once there is a suspicion of CKD, specific diagnostic tests will be requested to support the physical findings. Typically, the tests include a complete blood count (CBC), a urinalysis and a basic metabolic panel.
The blood tests, such as glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and creatinine levels, both give information about the filtration capability of your kidneys. Your doctor will also check to see if there is the presence of albumin in your urine. Albumin should not be seen in urine because it is a protein in the blood that should be filtered by the kidneys. Hence, a positive result indicates damage to your kidneys.
Risk Factors for Kidney Disease
Risk factors include the following:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Blood vessel disease
- Family history of kidney disease
- Abnormal kidney structure
- Old age
Kidney Disease Treatment Options
Treatment focuses on the underlying condition, whether it is diabetes, hypertension or any of the causes listed above. Patients should avoid taking substances that are toxic to the kidneys, such as NSAIDs, IV contrast media and aminoglycosides.
The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC VII) and the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative (KDOQI) suggest aggressive blood pressure control for patients who have chronic kidney disease. Their recommendation is a target blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg. Smoking cessation is also highly encouraged to decrease the risk of having early onset kidney failure.
Diet is an important factor to help you with your treatment. Working with a dietitian is a good way to increase the chances of prevention of kidney disease. Dietitians will create a meal plan for you to help meet your health goals.
Also, medication should be taken as prescribed. Connect with your pharmacist if you have any questions regarding your pills, as there is a possibility of having more than one pill for CKD cases. During follow-up visits, doctors may modify your prescriptions, such as lowering the dosage or switching to a different drug class. Be sure to understand any changes by talking to your family doctor, kidney specialist or pharmacist.
Find a Coping Mechanism That Works for You
Becoming physically active by doing exercise as frequently as possible will do no harm and may give you more benefits in terms of maintaining your weight, stress levels and blood pressure and glucose level goals. Here are some ways to help someone cope with the symptoms of kidney disease.
Healthy Eating Habits
What you eat can impact the health of your kidneys, so make sure you are consuming foods that can potentially prevent chronic kidney disease.
Heart-healthy foods are encouraged, as these foods are beneficial for your entire body. Recommended foods are fruits and vegetables (they can be fresh or frozen), whole grains and low-dairy or fat-free dairy products. It's also important that you reduce your sugar and salt intake.
Additionally, here are some more foods that can maintain kidney health:
- Red peppers.
- Egg whites.
Healthy Sleep Habits
Getting seven to eight hours of sleep improves your overall physical and mental health. Depriving yourself of sleep will do no good. It is best to choose the options that will not add more damage to your already suffering kidneys. Some ways to improve your sleeping habits are going to bed and waking up at the same time, having quiet time an hour before going to bed and taking a refreshing bath before going to bed.
If you have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, your goal is to prevent its progression by choosing healthy habits and following advice from your healthcare team. Be active in collaborating with your health care provider when planning therapy so that you will be knowledgeable about your current condition and be able to relay your doubts and worries.
If you do not have the disease, but you have noted that some risk factors are present, you can start modifying your lifestyle and habits. Communicate with your family doctor and start choosing options that will help you maintain healthy kidneys.