A CKD primer

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also know as renal disease, is a condition where the kidney’s filtering ability is damaged over the course of many years. This is usually due to a disease or other medical condition. CKD may eventually lead to kidney failure, requiring dialysis or kidney transplant.

One of the difficulties in diagnosing CKD is that people afflicted with CKD experience few symptoms until the disease has seriously progressed. However, early treatment is key in slowing or stopping the progressive of damage to the kidneys. Complications of CKD can be serious and include high blood pressure, weak bones and poor nutrition, anemia, and nerve damage. CKD also increases your risk of developing heart disease.

To be diagnosed with CKD, you must have some type of kidney abnormality or “marker” such as protein in the urine and have decreased kidney function for three months or longer. Laboratory tests are the only way to determine CKD.

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?
Most people do not have any symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms that may show up as your kidney function deteriorates include:

  • frequentrination or passing less urine
  • frequent headaches
  • fatigue or insomnia
  • itching all over 
    swelling in legs, ankles, feet, face and/or hands
  • metallic or bad taste in mouth
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite

What causes chronic kidney disease?
Diabetes is the leading cause of CKD. Because of high glucose in the blood, the kidney’s blood vessels and filters are damaged. Keeping glucose levels as close to normal as possible is the best way to help prevent the development of CKD.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the second leading cause of CKD. High blood pressure damages the kidney’s small blood vessels and filters, causing kidney function to deteriorate more quickly.

Other causes of CKD include trauma or injury to the kidneys, infections in the kidneys and/or repeated urinary infections, and certain drugs, including prolonged use of certain non-prescription pain killers.

Who is at risk?
While anyone at any age can develop chronic kidney disease (CKD), a number of risk factors have been identified that may lead to possible problems with your kidneys. Besides suffering from diabetes or hypertension, risk factors include:

  • Family history of kidney disease.
  • Age. People 60 years and older are at a higher risk for developing CKD.
  • Race. People belonging to certain ethnic groups, such as First Nations and Pacific Islanders, are at a higher risk for developing this disease.

What’s the treatment for chronic kidney disease?
There is no cure for CKD – treatment is focused on keeping the kidneys functioning as long as possible.

In many cases treatment of the underlying cause of CKD is most effective.  There are drugs which help to increase blood supply to the kidneys and reduce protein in the urine.  Dietary changes are also often recommended, particularly limiting salt and protein intake to reduce the load on the kidneys.

If the disease progresses, dialysis or a kidney transplant may be necessary.

For more information and support, visit the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s website at: www.kidney.ca/