Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), otherwise known as Chronic Kidney Failure (CKF), is a term that describes the loss of kidney function. CKD is an ongoing and gradual regression that can worsen at varying rates from one sufferer to the next, depending on a whole host of contributing factors.

CKD is a serious issue, with approximately 14% of the population (15.93% of women, 13.52% of men) suffering from damage of some kind. Furthermore, 661,000 Americans have experienced complete kidney failure, which is the most severe stage of the condition. Almost 200,000 of those people have required kidney transplants to regain a healthy function.

Whether you’re worried about yourself or a loved one (or wish to learn more about the disease), here’s all you need to know about CKD.

Healthy Kidneys vs. Chronically Damaged Kidneys

The human kidneys are two fist-sized organs that sit under the ribcage and sit either side of your spine. The bean-shaped organs are primarily responsible for filtering your blood and removing acid and waste to regulate a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals. In turn, the function of the kidneys will influence the health of nerves, muscles, and tissues. They also aid bone health, as well as red blood cell production.

In healthy kidneys, blood flows through the renal artery. After being filtered, the blood passes through the renal vein while the waste chemicals become urine and pass through a separate tube to the bladder. The kidneys use around a million nephrons to filter the blood by the glomerulus while the tubule removes waste. In healthy kidneys, blood circulates several times during the day.

When kidneys become damaged by CDK, their ability to successfully filter the blood becomes significantly reduced. This reduction could manifest through slower speeds or failure to filter the waste successfully. In either situation, this results in a build-up of waste chemicals, which will severely impact the body – after all, it will influence your blood and, therefore, everything your blood benefits.

What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?

Given that Chronic Kidney Disease describes a host of gradually worsening symptoms and issues, the condition can be attributed to several causes. Furthermore, the close relationship shared by the kidneys and various body parts; several additional health complications can be associated with CKD.

Chronic Kidney Disease can, therefore, be caused by many underlying problems. The list includes but is not limited to:

  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • Glomerulonephritis (inflammation of glomeruli filtering units within the kidneys).
  • Interstitial nephritis (inflammation of the kidney’s tubules).
  • Polycystic kidney disease.
  • Large kidney stones.
  • Urinary tract obstructions.
  • Vesicoureteral reflux.
  • Kidney infections.
  • Prostate disease.

Risk Factors, Symptoms, & Kidney Tests

While CKD has the potential to strike anyone regardless of age, background, or lifestyle, it should be noted that there are several factors that can potentially increase the risk of Chronic Kidney Disease. Those issues include but are not limited to:

  • Old age.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Family history of kidney failure.
  • Obesity.
  • African-American, Native American, or Asian-American background.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Symptoms to Monitor

Chronic Kidney Disease can be identified by several bodily changes. While the symptoms won’t always link to CKD, it’s essential to seek medical advice when they surface. Individuals may experience one or multiple symptoms, including:

  • Dark or red urine.
  • Odors or foamy looking urine.
  • Pain or burning during urination.
  • Back pain in the renal areas.
  • Anemia.
  • Unexplained changes to frequency or volume of urine.
  • Unexplained tiredness and exhaustion.
  • Swelling of hands, feet, and face.

Given that CKD affects the blood, it’s likely that any damage will lead to complications for other body parts. This damage can lead to various problems, including:

  • Fluid retention and fluid on the lungs.
  • Heart function impairment caused by hyperkalemia.
  • A weakening of the bones.
  • Reduced immune systems.
  • Central nervous system faults leading to seizures.
  • Reduced sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or reduced fertility.

If any of those symptoms or complications surface, getting tested for potential CKD is advised.

Testing for Chronic Kidney Disease

The primary way to test for CKD is to examine a recent urine sample. This examination can lead to various additional tests depending on the results found. However, the vast majority of testing will begin with a simple dipstick test, which can identify a range of chemicals and cells.

This can include identifying blood, white cells, proteins, sodium, potassium, urea, calcium, bicarbonate, phosphate, glucose, albumin, and more. If a tumor is suspected, cytological examinations may be required too.

Tests are also used to measure glomerular filtration (eGFR), which is a key indicator of the presence of CKD as well as the severity.

The 5 Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Chronic Kidney Disease is any condition that causes reduced kidney function over a period of time but can be categorized by five stages of deterioration, with each phase showing progressively worse damage from its predecessors. While it’s not the only contributing factor, the stages of CKD are heavily influenced by the eGFR figure.

The five stages of CKD are as follows:

Stage 1 Chronic Kidney Disease:

At stage 1 of CKD, patients have an eGFR rate of 90<. This is the same level as perfectly healthy kidneys. However, there will be other symptoms and problems that will affect the patient’s kidneys and, if left untreated, will escalate into something worse.

The signs include physical damage to the kidneys that can be identified through scans, as well as physical pains that can be felt by the patient on a constant or intermittent basis. Another common issue is the presence of protein in the urine – another symptom that can be spotted during medical observations.

Anybody suffering from stage 1 CKD can take various precautions to prevent further damage. They include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping healthy blood pressure. Individuals with diabetes should aim to control their blood sugars too.

Stage 2 Chronic Kidney Disease:

At stage 2 of CKD, patients have an eGFR of between 60 and 89. The damage is, therefore, considered to be mild while it is possible that no other symptoms will be shown. Like stage 1, though, it is also possible to show other signs, including physical damage and the presence of protein found in urine samples.

It is often the case that kidneys suffering from stage 2 of CKD are actually quite healthy in their current condition. However, left untreated, the condition of the kidneys will become fat worse over a period of several months.

Individuals suffering from stage 2 CKD can help prevent further damage by following the same precautions as those in stage 1. This should extend to additional steps such as avoiding tobacco usage and eating a healthy diet. Patients are advised to see a doctor too.

Stage 3 Chronic Kidney Disease:

At stage 3 of CKD, patients have an eGFR of between 30 and 59. However, stage 3 can be broken down into two subcategories, which are stage 3a (eGFR of 45-59) and stage 3b (eGFR of 30-44). This means that stage 3b is considered more dangerous than stage 3a, although both require serious attention as soon as they have been diagnosed.

It isn’t uncommon for individuals of stage 3 CKD to show no obvious signs of the condition. However, back pains, swelling to the hands and feet, and changes to urination habits are some of the issues that may be experienced by the patient.

Stage 3 sufferers may additionally show signs of various other health conditions. Related health complications include high blood pressure, anemia, and bone disease – all of which are caused by the body’s reduced ability to get rid of waste.

Stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease:

At stage 4 of CKD, patients have an eGFR of between 15 and 30. This signifies moderate to severe damage in which the kidneys fail to perform as expected. While the kidneys are still working at this stage, it should be taken very seriously. It is the last phase before kidney failure, which is why treatment is needed ASAP.

Stage 4 CKD sufferers will experience the symptoms seen at stage 3, but with greater significance. Similarly, the associated health complications are far more likely due to the body’s severely reduced waste removal capabilities.

Should stage 4 CKD develop into stage 5 CKD, it will be necessary to take serious action. Individuals at stage 4 should be prepared for this outcome by putting the necessary plans in place.

Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease:

At stage 5 of CKD, patients have an eGFR of <15. This signals severe damage in which the kidneys are on the verge of failure, or could even signal that the kidneys have already reached complete failure. The kidneys are no longer working, leading to a serious build-up of toxins within the bloodstream.

As such, individuals at stage 5 of CKD are likely to experience very serious symptoms, potentially on a constant basis. In addition to the symptoms seen in stages 3 and 4, patients may experience muscle cramps, nausea, breathing problems, sleeping issues, and changes to their eating patterns.

Once the kidneys have failed, it is necessary to have a transplant or dialysis to live. The possibilities should have been discussed at stage 4. Either way, it’s imperative that action is taken quickly as the toxins will continue to accumulate and harm the body until a solution is found.

Treating Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Prevention is always the best form of protection and should be employed by those without CKD symptoms as well as individuals suffering from the early stages of the condition. In addition to those mentioned above, it’s important to follow the instructions when taking over-the-counter medicines such as painkillers. Otherwise, the kidneys may be overworked, which is why you also need to avoid excessive alcohol consumption and binging.

The harsh reality is that the damage caused by CKD is usually permanent (this is not the case with other issues such as temporary infections or damage caused by accidents and injuries), meaning that the problems cannot be fixed without medical interventions. However, using the aforementioned prevention methods and lifestyle tips can go a long way to slowing regressions and stopping early-stage conditions progressing to worse damage. Medications can be used to control some of the associated issues such as high blood pressure.

While kidneys rarely stop functioning on a sudden basis, many individuals ignore the early signs, which ultimately means that CKD is not diagnosed until stage 4 or 5. When this occurs, there are (as previously mentioned) two main solutions – dialysis and kidney transplant.

Dialysis is a procedure where blood is filtered through outside support. It will be a lifelong treatment, and can be achieved in one of two ways:

Haemodialysis in which blood is diverted to a filtering machine before being returned to the body. This can be done roughly every other day, either at home or via a hospital visit.

Peritoneal dialysis in which dialysis fluid is pumped into the stomach in order to draw out the waste materials from your blood. This can be done overnight or at several stages throughout the day.

Kidney transplants are another potential solution. It does remove the need for dialysis and can return the normal kidney function, supporting the body with the related illnesses. The success rates are very high, but medications are needed to help prevent the threat of organ rejection while this is also a major type of surgery. However, despite the fact that living people can donate one of their kidneys, there is a major shortage of organs.

Conclusion

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a serious condition, even in the early stages due to the fact that the damage is largely irreversible. While it can occur at any stage of life, those guilty of poor lifestyle choices are more prone than others.

Thankfully, early identification provides the best opportunity to stay on top of the situation. If you believe that there is any reason to be concerned, speaking to a doctor is highly advised.