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  • Writer's pictureJames Waterworth

Preventing Kidney Disease

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Where are the kidneys? Kidneys are internal organs that lie on the side of the spine in the lower back. Most people are born with two kidneys; each is about the size of a fist. What do your kidneys do?

  • When healthy kidneys filter and clean the blood, waste products and excess water leave your body in the urine.

  • Kidneys contribute to good health by balancing the levels of different minerals, like sodium (salt), potassium, and phosphorus.

  • Kidneys release hormones to control blood pressure, make red blood cells, and keep your bones healthy.

What happens when your kidneys aren't working properly?

Many diseases, including diabetes and high blood pressure, can damage the kidneys. When the kidneys cannot do their usual jobs, harmful toxins and excess fluid build up in the body and can make you sick.

Most of the time, the kidneys do not stop working all at once. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term health problem. For some people with CKD, the damaged kidneys eventually stop working altogether. This is called "kidney failure" or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). In some cases, there is acute damage to the kidneys that leads to sudden kidney failure.

What are the stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)?

CKD is divided into 5 stages. Each stage tells you how well the kidneys are working. Doctors often estimate kidney function based on the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), a test based on levels of creatinine (a waste product that is normally removed by the kidneys) in the blood. As kidney disease gets worse, GFR decreases. To explain how well your kidneys are working, their function can be described as a percentage of normal function. For example, when the kidneys are working normally, they can be described as working at 100%.

Many people don't have any signs and symptoms and learn they have kidney disease when it is advanced. When kidney function is very low, symptoms may include:

  • Changes in urination

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Swelling

  • Feeling tired and having less energy

  • Sleeping problems

  • Dry, itchy skin

  • Changes in appetite

  • Nausea or upset stomach

  • Muscle cramps

  • Sexual or intimacy issues

  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly

  • Memory loss/forgetfulness

It's important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other illnesses and are common as people age.

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