• 26 million Americans have CKD.
  • Early detection can help prevent or delay the progression of kidney disease to kidney failure.
  • High risk groups include those with diabetes, high blood pressure and family history of kidney disease.
  • African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and seniors are at increased risk.
  • Three simple tests can detect CKD: blood pressure, urine albumin, and serum creatinine
  • Persistent protein (albumin) in the urine means CKD
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) is the best estimate of kidney function.  Estimated GFR is based on serum creatinine.
  • Heart disease is the major cause of death for all people with CKD.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) causes CKD and CKD causes hypertension.

What are the kidneys and how do they work?

The kidneys are part of the the body's urinary system.  The urinary system includes 2 kidneys, 2 ureters, the bladder, 2 sphincter muscles and the urethra.

The kidneys are bean shaped organs about the size of the fists.  They are located in the middle of the back just below the rib cage. They contain tiny filtering units called nephrons.

The body uses nutrients from food to maintain all body functions.  Waste products are left behind in the bowel and blood.  The blood is carried to the kidneys where the waste and extra water is removed.  This process allows the body to keep the chemicals and water in proper balance.

How do the kidneys help maintain health?

Besides removing wastes and fluids from the body, the kidneys perform other important jobs:

  • Regulate the body water and other chemicals in the body such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium
  • Remove drugs and toxins introduced into the body
  • Release hormones into the blood that help 1) regulate blood pressure, 2) make red blood cells and 3) maintain strong bones

What is CKD?

Chronic kidney disease includes conditions that damage the kidneys and decrease their ability to keep a person healthy by performing their job.  If kidney disease gets worse, wastes and extra fluids can build to high levels in the blood.  This can make a person feel sick.  Complications may develop like high blood pressure, anemia (low red blood counts), weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage.  Also, kidney disease increases your risk of having heart and blood vessel disease.

These problems may happen slowly over a long period of time.  CKD may be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure and other disorders.  Early detection and treatment can often keep chronic kidney disease from getting worse. When kidney disease progresses, it may lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or transplantation to maintain life.

What causes CKD?

The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, which account for up to two-thirds of the cases.  Diabetes happens when blood sugar is too high, causing damage to many organs in the body, including the kidneys, heart, blood vessels, nerves and eyes. High blood pressure (Hypertension) occurs when the pressure of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels increases.  If uncontrolled, high blood pressure can be a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.  Also, chronic kidney disease can cause high blood pressure.  Other conditions that can affect the kidneys are:

  • Glomerulonephritis, a group of diseases that cause inflammation and damage to the nephrons. Thesedisorders are the third most common type of kidney disease.
  • Inherited diseases, such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which causes large cysts to form in the kidneys and damage surrounding tissue
  • Malformations that occur as a baby develops in its mother's womb.  For example, a narrowing may occur that prevents normal outflow of urine, causing urine to back up in the kidney.  This may damage the kidneys.
  • Lupus and other diseases that affect the body's immune system.
  • Obstructions caused by problems like kidney stones, tumors or an enlarged prostate gland in men.
  • Repeated urinary tract infections

What are the symptoms of CKD?

Most people may not have any severe symptoms until their kidney disease is advanced. However, a person may notice:

  • tiredness and decreased energy
  • trouble concentrating
  • poor appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • muscle cramping, especially at night
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • puffiness around the eyes, especially in the morning
  • dry, itchy skin
  • increased urination, especially at night

Who is at risk for CKD?

Anyone can get chronic kidney disease at any age.  However, some people are more likely than others to develop kidney disease. Persons at risk include those with:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • family history of CKD
  • older age
  • population group that has high rates of diabetes or high blood pressure, such as African Americans,Hispanic Americans, Asian, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

What is End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)?

ESRD is total and permanent kidney failure.  The body retains fluid and the harmful wastes build up.

A person with End Stage Renal Disease needs dialysis or transplant to replace the work of the kidneys and to sustain life.  Dialysis is the process of cleaning wastes from the blood artificially with special equipment.

What are treatments for ESRD?

Treatment for End Stage Renal Disease is either dialysis or transplantation. 

There are two kinds of dialysis: 1) Hemodialysis uses a machine to clean waste from the blood. The blood travels through a set of tubes to a dialyzer which removes extra fluid and waste. The clean blood then flows back to the body through another set of tubes.  2) Peritoneal dialysis involves cleaning the blood by using the lining of the abdomen as a filter.

Transplantation is replacement of a diseased organ with a healthy one.  The kidney may come from a living donor or a cadaver.

How can the kidneys be kept healthy?

If a person is at risk for kidney disease, the most important steps to take are:

  • Get urine and blood checked.
  • Manage diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Take medications, if prescribed.
  • Maintain ideal weight.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Be physically active.
  • See a health care provider as directed.

What should a person ask their doctor?

A person should know as much as possible about their family medical history.  Write down questions before an appointment and write down the answers. If a person is at risk for CKD, it is important to get tested and to ask questions of their health care provider.  Questions may include:

  • Based on my medical and family history, am I at risk for CKD?
  • Would lowering my blood pressure help reduce my risk?
  • Do my blood and urine tests show signs of kidney disease?
  • What can I do to keep my kidneys healthy?

What should families know about kidney disease?

Kidney disease runs in families.  If someone in a family has kidney failure, blood relatives should be tested.  It should be discussed.

If a family member member has diabetes, high blood pressure or another risk factor for CKD, support their efforts to manage their condition.