Chronic kidney disease is the slow loss of kidney function over time. The main function of the kidneys is to remove wastes and excess water from the body.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) slowly gets worse over time. In the early stages, there may be no symptoms. The loss of function usually takes months or years to occur. It may be so slow that symptoms do not appear until kidney function is less than one-tenth of normal.
The final stage of chronic kidney disease is called end-stage renal disease (ESRD). At this stage, the kidneys are no longer able to remove enough wastes and excess fluids from the body. The patient needs dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Chronic kidney disease and ESRD affect more than 2 out of every 1,000 people in the United States.
Many other diseases and conditions can damage the kidneys, including:
Chronic kidney disease leads to a buildup of fluid and waste products in the body. This condition affects most body systems and functions, including:
The early symptoms of chronic kidney disease are also symptoms of other illnesses. These symptoms may be the only signs of kidney disease until the condition is more advanced.
Symptoms may include:
Other symptoms that may develop, especially when kidney function has gotten worse, include:
High blood pressure is almost always present during all stages of chronic kidney disease. A nervous system exam may show signs of nerve damage. The health care provider may hear abnormal heart or lung sounds when listening with a stethoscope.
Tests that check how well the kidneys are working include:
Chronic kidney disease changes the results of several other tests. Every patient needs to have the following checked regularly, as often as every 2 - 3 months when kidney disease gets worse:
Causes of chronic kidney disease may be seen on:
This disease may also change the results of the following tests:
Controlling blood pressure will slow further kidney damage.
Other tips for protecting the kidneys and preventing heart disease and stroke:
Always talk to your kidney doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicine, vitamin, or herbal supplement. Make sure all of the doctors you visit know you have chronic kidney disease.
Other treatments may include:
You may need to make changes in your diet. See: Diet for chronic kidney disease for more details.
Different treatments are available for problems with sleep or restless legs syndrome.
Everyone with chronic kidney disease should be up-to-date on important vaccinations, including:
When the loss of kidney function becomes more severe, you will need to prepare for dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Many people are not diagnosed with chronic kidney disease until they have lost most of their kidney function.
There is no cure for chronic kidney disease. Untreated, it usually worsens to end-stage renal disease. Lifelong treatment may control the symptoms of chronic kidney disease.
Treating the condition that is causing the problem may help prevent or delay chronic kidney disease. People who have diabetes should control their blood sugar and blood pressure levels and should not smoke.
Kidney failure - chronic; Renal failure - chronic; Chronic renal insufficiency; Chronic kidney failure; Chronic renal failure
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Updated by: Herbert Y. Lin, MD, PhD, Nephrologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Medicine; Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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