Common Myths About Chronic Kidney Disease
The gradual degradation of the kidneys, known as chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a more serious issue than most people realize. The kidneys are responsible for a host of bodily procedures that keep your blood clean, your body hydrated, and various hormones regulated (among other crucial responsibilities.) Yet, there are many myths surrounding CKD, its prevalence and severity.
Myth: Chronic kidney disease is curable
Fact: Chronic kidney disease is NOT curable. Those afflicted with CKD will undergo one (or even both) of two options: dialysis and organ transplantation. Dialysis is extremely effective at slowing the progression of kidney disease, but ultimately is NOT a cure. Since CKD will always lead to death if untreated, it's important to know that transplantation is the closest thing to a cure. However, if a patient does not commit to improving their health habits after the transplantation, the same lifestyle factors that led to CKD in the first place could persist. Additionally, the waiting list for a suitable donor could take anywhere from 3-10 years (if one is ever found at all), so it's quite common for patients to undergo dialysis until they find their new kidney.
Myth: I haven't shown symptoms, so I don't have to worry
Fact: Patients don't actually exhibit symptoms of kidney disease until it has already significantly progressed. There are 5 distinguishable stages of chronic kidney disease, each measuring the progressive level of deterioration. Stage 5 is called end-stage renal disease, meaning the kidneys have lost all function and emergency surgery is needed if the patient intends to live. Symptoms for kidney disease don't surface until stage 3.
Myth: Everybody is at equal risk for developing kidney disease
Fact: There are many factors that play into who is at risk of CKD. Adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and a family history of it are at higher risk. Additionally, CKD affects a disproportionate amount of African Americans and Hispanics. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that African Americans are 3 times more likely to develop CKD than Caucasians, while Hispanics are 35% more likely than Caucasians to develop it.
Myth: Kidney disease isn't very common
Fact: An estimated 15% of the American population has kidney disease, but around 96% are unaware of it, since symptoms take a while to show. That's more than 30 million Americans.
Myth: It's difficult to test for CKD
Fact: All it takes to test for CKD is a simple blood or urine test from your doctor. If you feel that you or a loved one are at risk of developing kidney disease, it would be best to schedule an appointment sooner rather than later. To find out more about how doctors test for CKD, check out our extensive article on the subject.
What To Expect When Getting Tested for Kidney Disease
The vast majority of people that suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD) are unaware of it. In fact, an estimated 90% of stage 3 CKD patients do not know they have it and that it's getting worse with each passing day. This is largely due to the fact that kidney disease does not exhibit symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly -- stage 3 is when the first signs surface. Because of this, it's important to know if you're at risk so you can get tested regularly, earlier.
However, when you finally do make the decision to get tested for kidney disease, it's important to be prepared and know what to expect. There are a couple methods, but how do doctors test for kidney disease?
Doctors will typically utilize two main methods of testing for chronic kidney disease, the first being a urine test. Depending on the situation, there are a few signs doctors look for:
Blood Test | Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR)
Glomeruli are the tiny filters in the kidneys that ensure waste does not enter the bloodstream. Your glomerular filtration rate measures the rate (in milliliters per minute) at which blood passes through the glomeruli. A lower rate indicates that smaller amounts of blood are being cleaned.
Doctors may also utilize scanning technologies in determining the severity of kidney disease. They may use ultrasounds and CT scans to check for tumors or abnormal growths on the kidneys.
In some rare cases, kidney biopsies may be conducted. These are usually only reserved for patients that are experiencing transplant rejection, or when doctors need to figure out the severity of physical damage done to the kidneys.
The 5 Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
The kidneys have a variety of responsibilities including regulating bodily hydration, filtering waste out of the blood stream and producing hormones. So as you can imagine, if the kidneys fail to do their job, serious health complications will arise if left untreated. In fact, without dialysis treatment or an organ transplantation, kidney disease has a 100% fatality rate. There are 5 stages of kidney disease, identified by glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is the measurement of how much blood is being filtered and cleaned by the kidneys in milliliters per minute. A lower GFR indicates lower volumes of blood are being cleaned, signaling kidney trouble. It's important to know each stage of CKD, how they impact the body and what you can do about it.
Stage 1: Minimal Function Loss (GFR 90 - 120)
The first stage of kidney failure is very minor. It's categorized by the kidneys starting to lose partial function, although no symptoms will show. It will only be detectable by blood test, so it's important to get regular checkups and request that your doctor do blood work. If your doctor does inform you that you are in the first stage, here's what you can do to minimize the risk of it progressing:
Stage 2: Mild - Moderate Loss of Function (GFR 60 - 89)
Again, symptoms generally won't show up until the later stages of kidney disease, but your doctor can determine if you're at this stage via blood test. If you happen to find yourself in stage 2, don't panic. This is still an early stage in the progression of CKD and it's possible to manage with the same recommendations as step 1, but you may want to additionally talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter medication and learn everything you can about kidney disease and possible treatments.
Stage 3: Moderate - Severe Function Loss
This stage is actually broken up into two different subsets: 3a and 3b. Stage 3a is characterized by a GFR between 45-59 mL/minute while 3b is between 30-44 mL/minute. Stage 3 is where CKD starts to manifest itself through symptoms, including:
Stage 3 is when things start to get really serious. It's around this time that you'll need to see a nephrologist in order to receive individualized treatment and lifestyle recommendations, including consulting a dietician. While each patient is unique in their circumstance, here are some broader expectations when it comes to diet:
Stage 4: Severe Loss of Function (GFR 16 - 29)
Stage 4 of CKD indicates that it is time to see a nephrologist, as you'll need dialysis or transplantation in the near future. You can expect to see a doctor every very frequently, at least once every few months, where frequent blood tests will be done. Symptoms will become more apparent as:
Stage 5: End Stage Renal Disease (GFR 15 or less)
The final stage of CKD is referred to as kidney failure or end stage renal disease. It's when the kidneys have ceased to function completely and a transplantation or dialysis are needed immediately in order to live. As toxins begin to infect your blood, you will feel an overall sense of illness in addition to the many symptoms outlined above.
End stage renal disease is no joke. Your kidneys are responsible for a myriad of bodily regulations, so treating it is imperative if you intend to live much longer. Much of the treatment will involve dialysis or transplantation in addition to drastic lifestyle changes, dietary improvements and medication. CKD is best caught early and can even be reversible if caught soon enough. So if you find that you're at risk of chronic kidney disease, schedule a consultation with a kidney specialist today.
Major Risk Factors for Kidney Disease
Did you know that 1 in 3 adults in the United States is at risk for kidney disease? While it can actually affect anybody, there are some major lifestyle factors that will sharply increase your susceptibility.
Hypertension is a main factor for being at risk of kidney disease and in turn, there are many risk factors involved in having hypertension. It's essentially high blood pressure, which is both a cause and symptom of kidney failure because your kidneys regulate blood flow throughout the body.
Leading a healthy lifestyle will reduce your blood pressure, and therefore reduce your risk of kidney failure. This includes quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet with less sodium, ceasing to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, avoiding obesity and exercising regularly -- not necessarily vigorously, just enough to mitigate a sedentary lifestyle.
Diabetes is the top cause of kidney failure and chronic kidney disease. We've covered the different types of diabetes in previous articles (LINK TO TYPE 1 V TYPE 2), but while type 1 diabetes is genetic, there are steps you can take to avoid type 2. Yet again, it's extremely important to stop smoking, get some exercise and watch what you eat.
There's no "one size fits all" solution when it comes to dietary needs, so seeing a nutritionist will be your best bet if you already have diabetes. Be prepared for constant monitoring of blood sugar, vitamins, fat, fiber, carbs, fat and salt. Generally speaking, diets for diabetics will be low in carbs, fats and calories but high in fiber and nutrients. You'll need to eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins like fish.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are more at risk for kidney disease. Doctors don't know exactly why this is, but they suspect it's because they have high rates of diabetes and hypertension, both of which are the two major factors for kidney failure. Additionally, lack of access to quality healthcare plays an important role in these statistics.
If you or a loved one are affected by diabetes and/or hypertension, it never hurts to get a check-up. Kidney disease is always fatal if left untreated; and symptoms don't usually arise until the kidneys have significantly declined to an unhealthy level. Our doctors at Milwaukee Nephrologists are all specially trained in all aspects of kidney health and management, so schedule a consultation today.
What You Should Do After Being Diagnosed With Kidney Disease
Going to the doctor is rarely a pleasant experience, but if you've noticed some health issues and finally get the courage to talk to a doctor, you'll be better for it. If you're ever diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD), it's definitely not a good diagnosis, it's not the end of the world. In addition to treatment options such as dialysis or transplantation, there are things you can do to mitigate the harmful effects of CKD. Since symptoms don't surface until stage 3, there's a good chance that it's already progressed to that point or worse, so getting immediate treatment and taking your own health into your hands is crucial.
Strive for a healthier lifestyle
It may sound like beating a dead horse because it's great advice for everybody, regardless of health status, but exercise is extremely important. Cardiovascular exercise in particular when it comes to CKD. You don't have to become a gym rat or spend hours each day working out to improve your health. Even a 30-40 minute walk and stretches each day goes a long way.
One of the most crucial steps you can take is to quit smoking. Tobacco use is associated with many types of deadly cancers and diseases and kidney failure is no exception. Smoking causes restrictive blood flow to vital organs, causing damage to the body. Unfortunately, there is no way to fully cure CKD (except with transplantation, but the waiting list can last a long time), dialysis merely slows the progression to a snail's pace. Tossing tobacco into the mix will negate that and "step on the accelerator" for the disease's progression, so to speak.
Another thing you'll need to do is improve your diet. The best way to go about this is to consult with a dietician because each patient is different and when it comes to dialysis treatment, there are many dietary restrictions to keep in mind. Previously, we've covered industry-known dietary regimens such as the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet. We can make generalized recommendations all day, but realistically, your personal doctor will need to instruct you what to do.
Understand the ins and outs of your condition
We at Milwaukee Nephrologists believe not only in reliable and top-quality healthcare, but also educating patients about their condition. We strive to inform everybody about the most important aspects of CKD in our blog section. Those diagnosed would find it particularly advantageous to know why the kidneys are important and what they do, the various stages of the disease, what to expect from dialysis, and the risk factors associated with CKD. They say knowledge is power and our library of informative articles will help to empower you through the duration of your treatment.
Work to cure your high blood pressure
High blood pressure can cause a condition known as renal hypertension, which is both a cause and effect of kidney disease. That's right, renal hypertension is a cycle -- it damages the kidneys and that damage causes high blood pressure. The result is that the disease will progress quicker, so it's really in your best interests to manage your high blood pressure. Your doctor will make dietary recommendations and, if it's a big enough issue, will prescribe you proper medication.
While there's really no way to fully cure a CKD without kidney transplantation, you still have the potential to live a happy and fulfilled life. Become informed about your disease and make healthier choices to mitigate the effects of CKD. If you or a loved one are at risk for developing kidney failure, schedule a consultation today.
The Symptoms Of Kidney Disease
Your kidneys are extremely important -- they filter out waste from the bloodstream and then expel it from the body as urine, so when the kidneys start to fail, it causes harmful waste to enter the body; other problems and diseases will start to surface. Early stages of kidney disease/kidney failure don’t have obvious symptoms, but if left untreated, it is always fatal. If symptoms of kidney disease DO come to light, it means they have already taken some damage and it’s imperative to seek treatment immediately. Here are some of the most common symptoms of kidney disease:
What Do The Kidneys Do?
Most people know that the kidneys are vital organs, yet are unfamiliar with their exact functions. The kidneys, which are located under your rib cage on each side of the spine, have three main duties: filtration, mineral and hormone production and regulating water.
The kidneys are essentially your body’s main filtration system. When you eat or drink, your kidneys will regulate the amount of salt, potassium, and other nutrients that your body needs. The kidneys will then filter out unneeded waste and excess water. This gets expelled from the body as urine, the production of which involves highly complex steps of excretion and reabsorption. Simultaneously, the kidneys return necessary minerals and water to the bloodstream, maintaining a delicate balance of vitamins and fluids in the body.
Mineral and Hormone Production
The kidneys are responsible for producing hormones that stimulate red cell production, regulate blood pressure and control calcium levels. Kidneys also produce vitamin D that helps strengthen bones and bone development.
Hydration is very important for the body to function at its best capability. Under or over hydration will cause the body’s cells to function improperly, so it’s vital to keep a good balance -- this is where the kidneys come into play. As blood passes through the kidneys, they absorb certain elements like sodium and water, reintroducing them back into the bloodstream whenever needed. So, when water content in your blood plasma is high, the kidneys will turn the retained water into urine, making it more diluted. If water content in your blood plasma is low, the kidneys replenish the bloodstream with its collected water and urine will be more concentrated.
The kidneys are often underestimated in their importance to the human body. Kidney disease and kidney failure results in your body’s “filter” being turned off, and waste/unnecessary nutrients are introduced to your bloodstream. Without dialysis or treatment, this will ultimately lead to other diseases and will eventually be fatal. Knowing what your body needs and how it functions is crucial to everyday health. If you feel that you or a loved one might be at risk for kidney disease, give us a call for a consultation.
What Does Nephrology Mean and Why Does It Matter?
Simply put, nephrology is the medical profession specializing in the treatment of kidney disease (also called renal disease). The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste and excess fluids from your blood, which are then dispelled from the body through urine. We, as nephrologists, are specially-trained to detect, diagnose and effectively treat kidney failures, which will eventually lead to more serious, often fatal, health complications like hypertension, electrolyte disturbances and others. Many complications resulting from kidney problems are systemic, such as autoimmune diseases, and affect more organs than just the kidneys (e.g. lupus) so it’s imperative to detect and treat kidney diseases early.
Our duties as physicians and specialists is not only to detect and treat diseases, but also to educate our patients on prevention. For example, kidney failure is commonly caused by smoking, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.
All of our specialists are board-certified in Nephrology and are dedicated to their focus that provides a wide array of sub-specialization that is broad in scope:
We are your best partner in the fight against kidney disease. We will work with you to find ways to help you adopt a healthier lifestyle to avoid kidney failure. Schedule a consultation today if you believe you’re at risk of kidney disease.