Chronic Kidney Disease is a progressive loss of normal kidney functions over a period of months or years. In some extreme cases, the kidney function might get so bad that they stop working altogether. When the kidney structure or function is abnormal for more than 3 months, the doctors diagnose the patient for having chronic kidney disease.

When the chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage – when your kidneys are no longer able to filter wastes and excess fluids from your blood – it is referred to as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or kidney failure. People who have ESRD need regular dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.

There are an estimated 30 million people in the US alone who have chronic kidney disease or CKD. This World Kidney Day, let’s take a look at the causes that lead to chronic kidney disease and how we can prevent it.

Causes and Risk Factors for CKD

There is no specific known cause as such – anyone can develop CKD. However, certain factors may raise the risk of chronic kidney disease. These include:

  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney stones, lupus, or enlarged prostrate
  • Family history of CKD
  • Patients on long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, omeprazole, lithium, etc.
  • Ethnicity: African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics are at a higher risk
  • Age more than 60 years old

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease is a progressive disease; which means, it takes its time to manifest and becomes worse over time. Often, by the time the symptoms appear, your kidneys may already be damaged badly. In the penultimate or ultimate stages of CKD, when you are close to ESRD or kidney failure, you may start noticing symptoms that are usually the result of the buildup of excess fluid and waste in your body. These are:

  • Excessive itching
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained hunger
  • Edema in the feet and ankles
  • Excessive urination or little urine
  • Breathlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive drowsiness or fatigue
  • Chest pain

In some cases, the individual may have acute or sudden kidney failure; in such cases, the symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the abdomen and back
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Bleeding from the nose

If you experience a few of these symptoms, it could be a sign of kidney damage, and you should consult your EPIC Health physician right away, without delay.

Complications of CKD

Kidneys perform vital functions in the body – of removing toxins and wastes from the body; this helps the body to function properly. For example, creatinine is a waste product that is released during muscular activity, and is one of the wastes filtered out of the body by our kidneys. When an individual develops CKD, they are likely to have problems with other body functions and processes. The most common complications of chronic kidney disease include:

  • Anemia
  • Bone disease
  • Heart disease
  • Fluid buildup
  • Excess potassium
  • Excess calcium

GFR and Stages of CKD

Before we get into this, it is important to know about the Glomerular Filtration Rate, or GFR. Creatinine is the most prominent waste material created in the body; if creatinine builds up in the body, it’s a sure sign of kidney trouble. Your physician at EPIC Health will order a Blood Creatinine test at the EPIC Diagnostic Center to calculate your estimated GFR. If your eGFR is under 60 for over 3 months, you could be developing a kidney disease. The GFR also helps you to know which stage of CKD you are in.

There are 5 stages of the disease:

  • Stage 1: Normal or high GFR (GFR > 90 mL/min)
  • Stage 2: Mild CKD (GFR = 60-89 mL/min)
  • Stage 3A: Moderate CKD (GFR = 45-59 mL/min)
  • Stage 3B: Moderate CKD (GFR = 30-44 mL/min)
  • Stage 4: Severe CKD (GFR = 15-29 mL/min)
  • Stage 5: End Stage CKD (GFR <15 mL/min)

Diagnosing CKD

As there are no early symptoms for the disease, it is difficult to get a diagnosis till it’s too late. Those with risk factors, like people over 60 and diabetic or hypertensive patients, should be vigilant and get their annual checkups performed at the EPIC Health center. Your EPIC physician will most likely order the following tests:

  • Urine test for presence of protein or blood
  • Blood creatinine test to check creatinine levels and determine your eGFR
  • Blood pressure check (120/80 is considered normal)

Presence of blood or protein in the urine and/or high creatinine levels in your blood could be an indication of abnormal kidney function.

Preventing CKD

The most common reasons for anyone to develop CKD are hypertension and diabetes. If you have either of these conditions, you should work closely with your doctor to keep glucose levels and your blood pressure under control.

Here it becomes very important to make changes to your lifestyle. At EPIC Health, we will work with you to help you prevent kidney disease; our advanced care team model of healthcare has successfully guided patients to achieve their health goals and maintain optimal health in the long term.

Our exercise physiologist will work with you to guide you about exercises you can safely do, at our center as well as at home. They will guide you on how to monitor your progress as well.

The certified dietician at EPIC will talk to you to find out your food habits and preferences, and create kidney-friendly meal plans that are low in sodium (salt), sugar, and fat, among other things. She will also suggest healthy alternatives; there are many foods you may need to avoid as these could cause a buildup of minerals in the body which could cause problems with other body functions.

It is also a good idea to maintain optimal weight, manage stress, limit your alcohol intake, and completely stop using tobacco products.

Treating CKD

Usually, CKD cannot be reversed; the damage to the kidneys is permanent. However, you can prevent it from getting worse and progressing into ESRD.

Damage to your kidneys is usually permanent. Although the damage cannot be fixed, you can take steps to keep your kidneys as healthy as possible for as long as possible. You may even be able to stop the damage from getting worse. Your EPIC Health doctor will recommend that you:

  • Constantly monitor and control your blood sugar
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure
  • De-stress with yoga, meditation, music, or some hobby of your choice
  • Avoiding tobacco and alcohol
  • Switching to a low-fat, low salt diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Maintaining low weight

Your doctor may prescribe medicines that help protect your kidneys from further damage. Do you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms? Are you at a risk for developing chronic kidney disease? Have you experienced any of the symptoms of kidney problems? If yes, don’t delay a minute longer! The earlier you catch CKD, the better are your chances of avoiding kidney failure. Schedule an appointment with your EPIC Health physician for a thorough checkup right away.