Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(10):1929-1930

What is chronic kidney disease?

Healthy kidneys take waste products out of your blood. These waste products then leave your body in your urine.

Chronic kidney disease happens when the kidneys do not take out waste products for at least three months in a row. Almost 20 million people in the United States have this disease.

The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Less common causes are infections, urinary blockages, and some diseases.

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

Often, there are no symptoms. Sometimes people with chronic kidney disease feel tired and weak, or don’t feel like eating.

How can my doctor tell if I have chronic kidney disease?

Your doctor will ask you about risk factors for kidney disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Your doctor also will check your blood pressure and test your blood and urine.

I have chronic kidney disease. What can I do to prevent problems?

If you have high blood pressure, it is important to take medicine to lower your blood pressure to 130/80 mm Hg or lower. Medicines called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-II receptor blockers are helpful. These medicines lower blood pressure and help keep your kidney disease from getting worse.

If you have diabetes, your doctor will tell you what to do to keep your blood sugar level normal. You may need to change your diet or take medicine.

If you smoke, you must quit. Smoking makes kidney disease get worse faster.

How else is chronic kidney disease treated?

You also need to lower your triglyceride (say: try-gliss-er-eyed) and cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat. Triglyceride levels often are higher in people with kidney disease. Your doctor may have you take medicine to lower your triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

Chronic kidney disease sometimes causes anemia. Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired and weak. If you have anemia, your doctor may have you take medicine.

Chronic kidney disease can change the way your body uses minerals like calcium and phosphorus. As a result, your bones can become weak. Your doctor may have you avoid certain foods or take medicine.

If you have chronic kidney disease, you may lose your appetite. A nutritionist can help you plan a diet that keeps you strong.

What happens if chronic kidney disease gets worse?

Even with the right treatments, chronic kidney disease can get worse over time. Your kidneys could stop working. This is called kidney failure. If this happens, waste products build up in your body. This can cause vomiting, weakness, confusion, and coma.

If you have kidney failure, your doctor will refer you for dialysis (say: die-al-uh-sis). In hemodialysis, a machine is used to take waste products out of the blood. This kind of dialysis has to be done in a clinic. In peritoneal dialysis, the machine is so small it can be strapped to your body while you go about your daily activities.

Where can I get more information about chronic kidney disease?

Your doctor

National Kidney Foundation

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health

American Association of Kidney Patients

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