Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is marked by the gradual loss of kidney function, which means the kidneys cannot filter waste and regulate water and acid in the blood as well as they should. 

In 75% of cases, CKD is caused by one of three conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, or glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the glomeruli, which are a component of nephrons (the structural and functional unit of the kidneys).

Early in the disease, there may be no symptoms, but the damage is progressive and permanent. CKD can be diagnosed with blood and urine tests, and treatment is focused on treating the underlying cause of kidney impairment as well as any complications.

Chronic kidney disease can progress to end-stage renal failure (ESRF), which is fatal without dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes chronic kidney disease?

    Chronic kidney disease occurs when another condition impairs kidney function. In most cases, CKD is caused by diabetes, hypertension, or a group of infections known as glomerulonephritis, but it may also be caused by autoimmune diseases like lupus; genetic disorders like polycystic kidney disease; obstructions such as tumors, kidney stones, or an enlarged prostate; or frequent kidney infections. 

  • Can chronic kidney disease be reversed?

    Unlike acute renal failure, which can be reversible, chronic kidney disease is marked by progressive, irreversible damage to the nephrons of the kidneys. Treatment may help slow the course of the disease, but dialysis or a kidney transplant may eventually be required if the kidneys stop functioning.

  • How is chronic kidney disease treated?

    Treating chronic kidney disease first requires identifying the underlying cause, then trying to slow the progression while also reducing complications that may affect other organs, like the heart. Treatment options may include a protein-restricted diet, antihypertensive medications, diabetes medications, diuretics, bone-marrow stimulants, and calcium reducers.

  • What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

    CKD is often referred to as "the silent killer," as early symptoms often go unnoticed, and noticeable symptoms don't take effect until the disease has significantly progressed. Early signs of CKD may include fatigue, ammonia-smelling breath, loss of appetite, malaise, ankle swelling, weight gain, difficulty urinating, and kidney pain. As kidney function worsens, symptoms become more severe.

  • How can you prevent chronic kidney disease?

    Preventing CKD involves staying on top of healthy lifestyle habits, like exercising, quitting smoking, and following a heart-healthy diet, which can help keep blood pressure in check.1 If you have other chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, it's important to keep them well-controlled within the target ranges your doctor has set for you in order to protect your kidneys.

Key Terms

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Kidney Disease in the United States, 2019. Updated March 11, 2019.

  2. Rodger RS. Approach to the management of end-stage renal disease. Clinical Medicine. 2012 Oct;12(5):472. doi:10.7861%2Fclinmedicine.12-5-472

  3. Veridiana A, Rodrigo R, Wilson A. Primary vesicoureteral reflux and chronic kidney disease in pediatric population. What we have learnt?. Int. Braz J Urol. 2020 Mar; 46(2): 262-268. 10.1590/s1677-5538.ibju.2020.02.02

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