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Unraveling Chronic Kidney Disease: Understanding Symptoms, Stages, and Treatments

What is Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term condition characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function over time. It is a progressive condition that can lead to permanent damage and impaired kidney function. CKD is typically categorized into stages based on the level of kidney function, known as the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). The stages range from Stage 1 (mild kidney damage) to Stage 5 (end-stage renal disease), where kidney function is severely compromised.

What are the stages of Chronic Kidney Disease?

The laboratory value used to stage chronic kidney disease is the glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Below is a table outlining the stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) based on the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and corresponding descriptions. It’s important to note that these stages are general guidelines.

Stage

eGFR Range (ml/min/1.73m²)

Description

Stage 1

≥90

Kidney damage with normal or high eGFR

Stage 2

60–89

Mildly reduced kidney function

Stage 3

30–59

Moderately reduced kidney function

Stage 4

15–29

Severely reduced kidney function

Stage 5

<15

End-stage renal disease (ESRD)

What causes Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can have various causes and here’s a list of a few of the most common reasons:

  • Diabetes

  • Hypertension/​High Blood Pressure

  • Glomerulonephritis

  • Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)

  • Kidney stones or frequent Urinary tract obstructions 

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

  • Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract:

  • Autoimmune diseases (such as lupus and vasculitis)

  • Other factors (such as certain medications, exposure to toxins or heavy metals, recurrent kidney infections, and long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without medical supervision)

It’s worth noting that in some cases, the exact cause of CKD may be challenging to determine or may involve a combination of factors. 

What are the symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) may not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. However, as the disease progresses, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, and around the eyes

  • Changes in urination such as urgency and frequency

  • Persistent itching often generalized or concentrated in the legs

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

  • Changes in urine color and consistency

  • Muscle cramps and twitches particularly in the legs

  • Sleep problems, which could lead to insomnia or restless legs syndrome.

  • Cognitive difficulties

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be associated with other health conditions, so, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis. Early detection and management of CKD can help slow its progression and preserve kidney function.

How is Chronic Kidney Disease diagnosed?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is diagnosed through a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Common diagnostic methods include measuring creatinine levels in the blood to estimate the glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), a urine test to check for proteinuria or hematuria, and imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scans to evaluate the kidneys’ structure. A kidney biopsy may be performed in some cases. These tests help determine the presence, stage, and underlying cause of CKD.

Is Chronic Kidney Disease curable?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is generally not curable in the sense that the underlying damage to the kidneys is typically irreversible. However, early detection and appropriate management can help slow the progression of CKD, prevent complications, and improve quality of life.

What are the latest treatments for Chronic Kidney Disease?

The treatment for chronic kidney disease (CKD) aims to slow the progression of the disease, manage complications, and improve quality of life. All these actions are also aimed to prevent or delay the need for kidney replacement therapies such as dialysis or transplantation. The specific treatment approach depends on the underlying cause, stage of CKD, and individual patient factors. Here are some common treatments and strategies:

  • Blood pressure management

  • Blood sugar control and diabetic management

  • Lifestyle modifications

  • Medications for symptom management

  • Dialysis

  • Kidney transplantation

It’s important to note that the treatment plan for CKD is highly individualized, and regular monitoring and follow-up with a kidney specialist are essential. They will assess the specific needs of each patient and recommend appropriate treatments and interventions to slow the progression of CKD and manage associated complications.

Is Chronic Kidney Disease hereditary?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can have both genetic and non-genetic causes. Some forms of CKD have a hereditary or genetic component, meaning they are passed down from parents to their children through genes. These genetic forms of CKD are relatively rare and often manifest at an earlier age. Examples include polycystic kidney disease (PKD), Alport syndrome, and certain inherited glomerulopathies.

However, the majority of cases of CKD are not directly inherited but are instead caused by other factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, glomerulonephritis, or other conditions that can damage the kidneys over time.

If you have a family history of CKD or related kidney disorders, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a genetic counselor. They can provide personalized information and guidance regarding the specific genetic risks, screening options, and implications for family members.

What should a person with chronic kidney disease avoid eating?

For individuals with chronic kidney disease (CKD), it is important to follow a balanced and individualized diet that takes into account their specific condition, stage of CKD, and other factors. While keeping your kidneys healthy based dietary recommendations may vary, here are some general guidelines on foods to limit or avoid:

  • Sodium: Reduce sodium intake to help manage fluid retention and blood pressure. Avoid or minimize processed and packaged foods, as they are often high in sodium. Use herbs, spices, and other seasonings to enhance flavor instead of salt.

  • Potassium: Monitor potassium levels, especially in advanced stages of CKD. Limit high-potassium foods such as bananas, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach. Cooking certain vegetables and fruits can help reduce their potassium content.

  • Phosphorus: Reduce phosphorus intake as kidney function declines. Avoid high-phosphorus foods like dairy products, processed meats, whole grains, and certain carbonated beverages. Phosphorus binders may be prescribed to manage phosphorus levels.

  • Protein: Depending on the stage of CKD, protein intake may need to be adjusted. Too much protein can burden the kidneys. Work with a dietitian to determine the appropriate protein intake for your condition.

  • Fluids: Fluid intake may need to be limited if you have fluid retention or reduced urine output. Your healthcare team will provide guidance on the appropriate amount of fluid intake based on your specific needs.

  • Added sugars and unhealthy fats: Minimize consumption of sugary foods and beverages, as well as foods high in unhealthy fats. Opt for healthier alternatives such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Remember, these recommendations may vary depending on individual factors and the specific stage of CKD. It is crucial to consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional with expertise in kidney disease to develop a personalized dietary plan that meets your specific needs and goals.

How to find a Nephrologist at Oak Street Health?

For cases of chronic kidney disease, it is important to consult a nephrologist or kidney doctor, who specializes in diagnosing, treating and managing kidney disease. It’s important to have a nephrologist that will help diagnose your chronic kidney disease as well help you out with management and treatment. As part of your care team, Oak Street Health’s nephrologists work closely with your Oak Street Health primary care doctor to diagnose and treat any kidney conditions.

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