The kidneys are organs that work as filters in our bodies. They produce urine to eliminate waste, excess water, and excess salt. In this role, the kidneys are crucial in maintaining the body’s chemical balance. They also participate in the production of red blood cells, the regulation of bone metabolism, and the control of blood pressure.
A person with Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has damaged kidneys that do not perform their job as they should. Damaged kidneys cannot filter blood effectively. This causes toxins, water, and salt to build up in the blood, which is very harmful to a person’s overall health. CKD may eventually lead to kidney failure, at which point dialysis or kidney transplantation is needed to replace one’s kidney function.
In the United States, about 26 million adults have CKD. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes.
Evaluation by a nephrologist (doctor that specializes in the treatment of kidney disease) requires some routine as well as more specific testing. Creatinine levels in regular blood testing show how well the kidneys are filtering and give an estimate of the kidneys’ function, which is used to classify the severity of CKD. In the urine, the presence of protein or albumin and red blood cells can indicate CKD. An ultrasound or CT scan may be performed to evaluate for abnormalities of the structure of the kidneys. In certain cases, a kidney biopsy may be necessary.
CKD is said to be a silent disease because many people don’t develop symptoms until its very late stages. Therefore, regular testing and medical visits are important for monitoring the progression of the disease.
Early detection and management of CKD can often extend the period of time before the kidneys fail. Patients with CKD may take simple steps to limit the risk of disease progression. They should monitor their blood pressure and blood sugar regularly. They need to have their medications reviewed, as some may need to be discontinued, while other may need to have their dosages adjusted. In addition, they need to follow an appropriate diet depending on the cause of their CKD.
It is important for patients with CKD to work closely with their nephrologist to monitor and control their disease. That way, timely decisions can be made concerning referral for kidney transplantation or initiation of dialysis when the need arises.