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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(9):1733-1734

See related article on chronic kidney disease.

What do the kidneys do?

The kidneys clean the blood by removing waste and extra fluid. The waste then passes out of the body in urine. The kidneys also help control blood pressure, keep bones strong, and help make red blood cells.

What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease happens when there is damage to the kidneys. Because of this damage, the kidneys cannot clean blood as well.

Should I be tested for chronic kidney disease?

You should be tested if you are 60 years or older. You also should be tested if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, or if you have family members with kidney disease.

How do I know if I have chronic kidney disease?

Your doctor can tell you if you have a kidney problem by checking your blood pressure and ordering certain tests.

Your doctor may order two kidney tests: blood creatinine (say: kree-AT-ih-neen) and urine albumin (say: al-BYOO-min).

Creatinine is a waste product made by your muscles. Your kidneys remove creatinine from your blood. Your doctor uses your creatinine level to find out your glomerular filtration rate (GFR) (say: glow-MARE-you-lahr). Your GFR shows how well your kidneys are filtering your blood.

Albumin is a protein that your kidneys should keep in your body. Your doctor uses your urine albumin level to see how much protein your body is losing.

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

If you have chronic kidney disease, you may feel fine most of the time. However, you may have these symptoms:

  • Tiredness

  • Stomachache

  • Muscle weakness

  • Less urine output

  • Swollen legs

  • Puffy eyes

How do I find out what caused the damage to my kidneys?

To find out why your kidneys are damaged, your doctor will go over your medical history and do a physical exam. You also will need blood tests. You might need special x-rays of your kidneys and a kidney biopsy.

What can I do to help my kidneys?

It is important to stay away from things that can hurt your kidneys. You might need to:

  • Stop smoking

  • Lower your cholesterol

  • Lower your blood pressure

  • Control your blood sugar levels better if you have diabetes

  • Lose weight if you are overweight

  • Take medicine to slow down damage to your kidneys

Where can I learn more about chronic kidney disease?

One good source of information is the National Kidney Foundation Web site: http://www.kidney.org.

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