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Filtering the Facts Behind Chronic Kidney Disease

I’ve known about kidney disease since I was ten years old. It was then that my sister was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease, a chronic kidney condition. My grandfather had died from complications caused by this illness. My sister spent many years going from one doctor to another trying to get help but had very little success. Finally, in the early sixties, she was seen by a urologist, who told her she did not have Bright’s Disease. Instead, she had a birth defect that had caused both of her kidneys to drop down (prolapse) and put pressure on the renal artery. A few weeks later, Dr. Robert Gynn performed a type of breakthrough surgery for that time at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Hospital in Oklahoma City. This was the first procedure of this kind done in the United States (the only other one had been done in Australia). It was a complete success and helped restore normal functioning to her kidneys and greatly improved her quality of life.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)?

According to the National Kidney Foundation, about “30 million American adults and have CKD, and millions of others are at increased risk.” (National Kidney Foundation, 2017). Kidney disease can prevent your body from cleaning and filtering excess water out of your blood and can also prevent your body from controlling your blood pressure. (WebMD, Retrieved, 2019) Chronic kidney disease is what happens when your kidneys are not able to filter the waste products from your body for over a three-month period. In time, excess fluids build in your tissues. You may have no symptoms in the early stages, but eventually, after a time, you may notice the following:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Sleep problems

  • Changes in how you urinate

  • Decreased mental sharpness

  • Muscle twitches and cramps

  • Swelling of feet and ankles

  • Persistent itching

  • Chest pain, if fluids build up around the lining of the heart

  • Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) that’s difficult to control

(Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018)

What are the Causes?

“The two main causes of CKD are diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure), making up about two-thirds of the cases.” (National Kidney Foundation, 2017) Here are some other conditions that can cause this condition:

  • Glomerulonephritis – damage caused by inflammation to the body’s filtering units (third most common cause)

  • Polycystic Kidney Disease – large cysts have formed on kidneys and surrounding tissues

  • Malformations – caused by birth defects

  • Lupus – an autoimmune disease of connective tissue

  • Obstructions – kidney stones, tumors, enlarged prostate in men

  • Repeated urinary tract infections

(National Kidney Foundation, 2017)

Risk Factors for CKD

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Being African-American, Native American, or Asian-American

  • Family history of kidney disease

(Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018)

What is Kidney Failure?

According to the National Institute of Health, you have developed kidney failure when your kidney function drops below 15 percent of normal. Symptoms of kidney failure may begin so slowly, you don’t even notice them right away. Later you may become extremely ill due to a build-up of excess fluids such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. You may also experience increased high blood pressure, anemia, and weak bones. If you have CKD, this doesn’t mean that you will automatically develop kidney failure. However, it is important for you to be treated by a medical doctor, who will watch for the signs of kidney failure. The NIH lists the following symptoms of kidney failure you should watch for if you have CKD:

  • Swelling in legs, feet, or ankles

  • Headaches

  • Itchy skin

  • Daytime fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Nausea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Loss of sense of taste

  • Weight loss

  • Decrease in urine output

  • Muscle cramps, weakness, or numbness

  • Pain, stiffness, or fluids in joints

  • Confusion, problems focusing, memory problems

(National Institute of Health, Retrieved 3/22/2019)

What You Can Do to Prevent CKD

  • Always follow directions on over-the-counter medications (especially drugs such as Tylenol or aspirin or Ibuprofen). If you have kidney disease, ask your doctor what products are safe for you to use.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Manage your medical condition with your doctor’s help.

(Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018)

I would encourage you to see a doctor if you have any of these signs or symptoms of kidney disease. If you have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or lupus, your chances of developing kidney disease are greater than they are for the average person. Be sure your doctor monitors your kidney function regularly. Check out all the great information on lifestyle changes that are important for people with kidney disease on the American Kidney Fund site ( and the National Kidney Foundation website (


WebMd, “What is Kidney Disease?” For more information about diagnosis and treatments and online support resources available, see these sources:

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