Understanding Kidney Disease

Understanding Kidney Disease

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. A licensed healthcare professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.

Understanding Kidney Disease

Click to enlarge image

Most people are born with two kidneys, each the size of a fist. They are located on either side of the backbone, just above the small of the back. Each kidney weighs just ¼ of a pound, but plays an enormous and critical role in your health. When your kidney function starts to deteriorate, you will need referral to and treatment by a kidney specialist. Your kidneys are vital organs. Think of your kidneys as the body's cleaners: they filter waste, toxins and extra fluids from your blood. Blood flows into the kidneys through the renal arteries and leaves through the renal veins. Renal is the medical term meaning "related to the kidneys." Every day, the kidneys produce about two quarts of urine, which contains waste and extra fluid. Urine leaves the kidneys through tubes called ureters and is held in the bladder. Urine leaves the bladder through another tube called the urethra when you urinate. This is called the urinary tract system.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

In some patients the kidneys become damaged and are unable to perform their normal functions. You can have a lot of kidney damage and not even feel ill. That's why kidney disease is often called a silent disease. It is only when kidney damage is severe that you may feel sick. In most patients kidney diseases affect both kidneys. When your kidney function is below 15-20%, you may begin to have symptoms such as feeling tired or weak, or losing your appetite. You will then need some form of treatment to replace some of the functions of a healthy kidney. Monitoring your kidney function is very important to learn how quickly your kidney disease is developing. You and your kidney doctor (nephrologist) will be able to tell how your condition is progressing by keeping a close watch on these tests:

  • Serum creatinine - A blood test that measures the amount of creatinine, a waste product found in the blood. A higher level in the blood means the kidneys are removing less waste from the body
  • Glomerular filtration rate - A measure of kidney function calculated from a urine collection. This determines how your kidneys are filtering waste products. A lower number means your kidney function is getting worse.
    The glomerular filtration rate may also be estimated by equations which use serum creatinine, age, race, sex and body weight. The commonly used equations are the Cockcroft-Gault formula and the Modification of Diet in Renal Disease (MDRD) study formula

The results of these tests will help your doctor decide what actions to take to keep you as healthy as possible.

Diabetes and Kidney Disease

What is diabetes? Diabetes is a disease that causes a high glucose (sugar) level in the blood. Your body normally changes the carbohydrates you eat into glucose. Your blood carries the glucose into your cells, where it is used for energy or stored to be used later. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps the glucose move from the blood into your cells. If you have diabetes, either your pancreas no longer makes enough insulin, or the insulin it makes doesn't get into the cells. Your body cannot move the glucose from the blood into cells, so it builds up. When glucose levels in your blood remain high, the extra glucose affects many parts of your body. High levels of blood glucose can damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys so they cannot remove fluid and wastes as well. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure.

Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney disease in the U.S., and is responsible for almost half of the new cases of kidney disease each year. If diabetes goes untreated for too long, you can develop complications. One of these complications may be kidney disease.

Diabetic nephropathy is the medical term for kidney damage caused by diabetes. It can take 20 years or more for a person with diabetes to develop kidney failure.

High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease

High blood pressure typically causes no symptoms for many years. You may not even know you have it. In fact, it is usually discovered when you’re seeing a doctor for something else. High blood pressure cannot be diagnosed from just one blood pressure reading. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. If your blood pressure remains higher than 130/85 on two or more days, you should see your doctor.

More than 25% of new cases of kidney failure each year are caused by blood pressure that is higher than normal, also known as hypertension. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause kidney disease and also cause it to progress faster. Kidney disease can also cause high blood pressure

Other Causes

Other conditions which may lead to kidney failure include glomerulonephritis due to inflammation and damage to the filtering units of the kidney,inherited diseases such as polycystic kidney disease, lupus and other conditions which affect the body's immune system, obstruction which include kidney stones, tumor or enlarged prostate, infections and some medications

Kidney Failure Treatments

The two treatments used when kidneys fail are dialysis and transplantation. Dialysis treatment which can be performed at home or in a clinic removes extra fluid and waste from your body. Kidney transplantation means getting a new kidney to replace your damaged kidneys. Both dialysis and transplantation are effective treatments for kidney failure.If you do nothing, your health will continue to get worse. If left untreated, kidney failure can lead to death.

Some things you can do to help protect your kidneys
  • Stay in touch and talk with your doctor
  • Learn about kidney disease
  • Take an active role in your health
  • Ask questions
  • Discuss all medications, even over-the-counter drugs, with your doctor
  • Take all medications as prescribed
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control by taking your medications, watching your diet, and monitoring your blood sugar level
  • Exercise with your doctor's approval
  • If you have high blood pressure, check your blood pressure regularly. Take your medications even if you feel file.
  • Follow any special diet instructions