Kidney Disease: “Am I At Risk?”

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a dangerous condition that can damage your kidneys’ ability to function properly. Learn more about the major factors that can put your kidneys at risk, and what you can do about it.

Your kidneys

Healthy kidneys do three essential things. They remove wastes from the blood and return the cleaned blood back to the body. They regulate the levels of water and different minerals needed by the body for good health. They also produce hormones that control other important body functions.

What is chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is defined as the presence of kidney damage, or a decreased level of kidney function, for a period of three months or more.
 
CKD can be divided into five stages, depending on how severe the damage is to the kidneys, or the level of decrease in kidney function. Not everyone progresses from Stage 1 to Stage 5. In Stage 5, also known as End-stage Renal Disease (ESRD), renal replacement therapy – dialysis or a transplant – is necessary to sustain life.
 
 

Major causes of kidney disease

There is no single cause of chronic kidney disease. Some forms of the disease may be inherited, while others are acquired.
 
The two most common causes are diabetes and high blood pressure. Others are glomerulonephritis (nephritis), polycystic kidney disease, urinary tract obstruction, reflux nephropathy, and drug or medication-induced kidney problems. Bacteria such as E. coli and bacterial infections, such as strep throat, are other culprits.
 
 

Diabetes & high blood pressure

Diabetes is caused by either a lack of insulin in the body or the body’s inability to use insulin properly. People with diabetes suffer from damage to the small blood vessels of the body.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in North America. Kidney disease from diabetes usually progresses slowly, over a period of 10-15 years. Damage occurs to the glomeruli, the blood-filtering units of the kidneys. When these blood filtering units are injured, the kidneys cannot clean the blood.
 
 
High blood pressure is also one of the major risk factors of kidney disease and the second leading cause of end-stage renal disease in North America. It accounts for about 12-15% of the causes of kidney failure in new patients in Canada.
 
Poorly controlled high blood pressure can cause rapid loss of kidney function by damaging the tiny filters of the kidney. Improving blood pressure control has proven to slow and, in some cases, stop chronic kidney damage.
 
 

Other causes of kidney disease

Glomerulonephritis
Glomerulonephritis (nephritis) means inflammation of the kidney glomerulus, or filters. The inflammation may be so severe that the filters are destroyed, resulting in kidney failure. Glomerulonephritis is caused by a problem in the body’s immune system whereby it mistakenly attacks the kidneys’ filters.
 
There are many types of glomerulonephritis. One example is a condition known as systemic lupus erythematosus. As a group of diseases, glomerulonephritis is the third most common cause of kidney failure in Canada.
 
Polycystic kidney disease
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder involving the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys. PKD cysts can slowly replace much of the mass of the kidneys, reducing function and leading to kidney failure.
 
Urinary tract obstruction
Kidneys may be damaged if there is an obstruction of the urinary outflow. Obstructions may occur in the ureters or at the outlet of the bladder. Birth defects can cause narrow ureters that could lead to kidney damage in children. In adults, an enlarged prostate gland, kidney stones and tumors can cause obstructions.
 
Reflux nephropathy
This condition usually affects children who are born with an abnormal junction of the ureter and bladder. The kidneys are scarred because of an abnormal flow of urine from the bladder back into the kidney. If reflux nephropathy is not diagnosed early, or if the kidneys are badly scarred, it can cause progressive kidney disease or lead to end-stage renal failure. This condition may cause as many as 20% of cases of kidney failure in children and young adults.
 
 

Drug and medication-induced kidney problems

The use of illegal drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, can cause kidney damage. Some over-the-counter medications may damage the kidneys if used in large doses over a long period of time. At times, even prescription medications may cause kidney dysfunction. However, many prescription medications can be safe for people with kidney disease as long as the doctor makes special changes to the dosage. If you are unsure whether an over-the-counter medication or a prescription medication is safe for you, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

 
 

Preventing the progress of kidney disease

Not everyone with chronic kidney disease will progress to end-stage renal disease. Some ways to prevent or minimize the progression of kidney disease are explained in this section.
 
Many people with CKD find that taking a wellness approach improves their ability to stay fit and maintain a good quality of life. Wellness is a state of physical, mental and social well-being. Factors that help achieve wellness include:
  • A well-balanced diet
  • Regular physical activity (ideally 45-60 minutes four to five times per week)
  • Good blood pressure control
  • Good blood glucose control if you have diabetes
  • Stopping smoking
  • Managing anemia (maintaining a normal blood count)
  • Weight control
  • Limiting daily alcohol to two drinks or less
  • Taking medications as prescribed

 
 

Questions to ask your doctor:

  1. I have been told I am at risk for kidney disease. What steps should I take to stay as healthy as possible?
  2. What is my creatinine level and what does it mean? Can you tell me what percentage (%) my kidneys are working at?
  3. How does high blood pressure affect my kidneys and how can I control it?
  4. I have diabetes. How often should my kidney function be checked?
  5. Where can I find out about the best eating plan for my particular needs?
  6. What over-the-counter medications are safe for me to take?
  7. Can I try herbal remedies to improve my kidney function?
  8. Is kidney disease genetically transmitted? Should I have my children tested as well?
  9. How will I know if I need to go on dialysis?

 
 

Definitions

It can be challenging to understand all the terminology about kidney disease. Following are definitions of several words you may encounter.
 
Creatinine: Waste substance that is produced when muscles are used. Measuring the creatinine level in the blood gives an indication of how well, or poorly, the kidneys are working. As kidney function decreases, the level of creatinine in the blood increases.
Creatinine clearance: Test that measures how efficiently the kidneys remove creatinine and other wastes from the blood. The test uses a formula that relates the serum creatinine level to a person’s age, weight and gender. Low creatinine clearance indicates impaired kidney function.
eGFR: Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate. The eGFR is estimated by a mathematical calculation using blood tests and other information in order to get an approximate measure of the amount of kidney function present.
Glomerulus: Tiny filter in the kidney which separates excess water and wastes from the blood.
Nephrologist: Doctor who specializes in kidney disease and its treatment.
Urea: One of the waste products that build up in the blood from the breakdown of protein. Blood urea level is not as good an indicator of kidney function as the creatinine test, since blood urea levels can be elevated in other situations such as dehydration.
Uremia: Condition caused by the build-up of waste products in the blood.
Urinalysis: Test to measure the presence of protein and other substances in the urine.
 
For a more complete list of terms and definitions, refer to the Glossary in the Living with Kidney Disease manual, available on-line at The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Web site at www.kidney.ca.

 
 

Important information

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Information in this section has been provided by The Kidney Foundation of Canada. The Kidney Foundation of Canada provides trusted, unbiased, science-based information that helps you take control of your own health.
 
 
This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances. If you have questions about your symptoms, ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for more information, and/or contact your doctor.
 
 
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.
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This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.

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