Located near the middle of your back, right below the rib cage, are the kidneys. Every day, they process around 200 quarts of blood and sift out about 2 quarts of waste products and excess fluid, which are then excreted as urine. Without the kidneys, the waste and fluid would build-up and cause damage to our bodies.
The exact process behind this waste removal involves millions of nephrons, which are units in the kidneys, who have tiny blood vessels that intertwine with tubules, which carry urine. Here, a chemical exchange pushes the waste and excess fluid out of the blood and into the urine.
Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of this kidney function. Most cases of chronic kidney disease happen slowly over time, as the nephrons are damaged slowly.
Although researchers know that there are many factors that influence the speed at which kidney disease develops, the processes themselves are not understood. Often, chronic kidney disease is the result of a disease or condition affecting kidney function over months or even years. Some of the diseases that may result in chronic kidney disease are:
- Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Inflammation in the kidneys (glomerulonephritis or interstitial nephritis)
- Polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder where clusters of cysts develop within the kidneys
- Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract, due to enlarged prostate, kidney stones, and some cancers
- Pyelonephritis, or recurrent kidney infections
- Vesicoureteral reflex, where urine backs up into your kidneys
Risk factors for chronic kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, smoking, obesity, older age, abnormal kidney structure, being African-American, Native American or Asian-American, or a family history of kidney disease.
It may take years or decades for the symptoms of kidney disease to become apparent. Knowing the symptoms of kidney disease can help people detect it early and get treatment. In the beginning, general symptoms may include frequent headaches or feeling tired or itchy all over the body. As the disease progresses, people may experience the following:
- More or less frequent urination
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sleep problems
- Decreased concentration
- Darkening skin
- Muscle cramps
- Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
- Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
- High blood pressure that’s difficult to control
Unfortunately, kidney disease cannot be cured. There are treatment options for those that are in the early stages of kidney disease; these treatments can slow the speed at which kidney disease progresses, prolonging function. Treatment plans include controlling blood sugar levels and blood pressure, following a low-protein diet, and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
If left untreated, chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. Talk to your primary care physician if you think you may have symptoms of kidney disease.