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Identifying and Dealing with Kidney Diseases

Published on Aug 08, 2023 | 1:31 PM

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Identifying kidney disease is crucial as it allows for early intervention and management, preventing further damage to the kidneys and reducing the risk of complications such as kidney failure. Early detection through symptoms like changes in urination, swelling, and high blood pressure can enable timely medical intervention, promoting better outcomes and improved quality of life for individuals with kidney disease.

Kidney disease, an overview

In celebration of World Kidney Day, we’d like to bring some attention to your kidneys. As a crucial part of your body found just below your ribs and in the upper urinary tract, the pair of bean-shaped organs do quite a bit to keep you healthy. However, according to the American Kidney Fund, around one in seven American adults live with kidney problems and the vast majority (9 out of 10) are unaware of it. 

As the National Institute of Health describes, kidneys function in multiple ways to keep your body running at peak performance. For example, they act as a filter for your blood, manage your blood mineral levels, and make hormones. Noticing early signs of kidney problems can help you keep them healthy and prevent further health risks or complications.  

What symptoms come with kidney disease?

Your kidneys are made to function regularly, filtering half a cup of blood per minute and fulfilling critical functions. However, just like your heart, stopping is not an option for your kidneys, as doing so will cause a massive problem for the body. When a health-related issue arises that cannot be ignored, there might be a chance of kidney disease symptoms associated. Here are some examples according to WebMD

  • Ankle/feet swelling
  • Appetite loss
  • Chest pain
  • Cramps
  • Constant or infrequent urination
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Focus problems
  • Hypertension
  • Metallic taste
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Skin irritation

All of these symptoms can be shared by another condition or disease. For example, some types of anemia can be responsible for cramps, chest pain, appetite loss, and, most notably, exhaustion. Due to most kidney disease symptoms showing up in the later stages of the condition, it is entirely important to get tested as soon as they remain a problem for around 10 days or get significantly worse.  

How long can you have kidney disease without knowing?

Depending on your lifestyle, progression for problems afflicting either kidney can take several months or years. As mentioned before, the American Kidney Fund reports that most people with kidney problems don’t necessarily know about it. Furthermore, organizations like the NHS have mentioned a diagnosis in the early stages comes from a blood or urine test typically taken during a checkup or when either is needed for another condition. 

It should be noted that two types of kidney disease are more immediately noticeable. Due to the pain associated with kidney stones and kidney infection, both are reported earlier than chronic kidney disease. Repeated cases of either can also lead to a higher vulnerability to later problems. 

What are the first signs of kidney problems?

Chronic kidney disease comes in five stages, one being the least threatening and five being critical. Most people do not feel anything until stage three when there is noticeable damage to the kidneys, and their performance begins to deteriorate. Symptoms during this stage can include:

  • Back pain
  • Change in urine appearance
  • Cramps
  • Exhaustion
  • Hand/foot swelling

As detailed by the American Kidney Fund and the National Kidney Foundation, the earliest stages of kidney disease are not necessarily what you can see. More specifically, the earliest signs can be found with tests measuring: 

  • Blood pressure readings
  • Protein in the urine
  • Waste in the blood

What color is your pee if you have kidney disease?

As one of the organs directly responsible for the urine you produce several times per day, your pee can be one of the primary indicators of kidney problems. As the disease progresses, your pee will get darker and become red, brown, or purple. Additionally, foam or fizz in the urine is often a direct sign that the kidneys are losing function. 

Brown urine can be particularly troubling as it is often associated with liver failure. In addition, the brown color originates from a large amount of waste in your pee, meaning the kidneys need immediate attention. 

What are three conditions that can cause kidney problems?

Diabetes: According to the CDC, people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes should get regularly checked for kidney disease. Due to the effect diabetes has on blood sugar, your kidneys can be damaged over time and are especially vulnerable when a person’s blood sugar is not monitored. 

Hypertension: High blood pressure or hypertension can just as easily be a sign of kidney disease as it can be a cause. Those with hypertension should consider getting regularly tested as the condition can damage the bean-shaped organs over time. 

Obesity: Put simply, the more weight a person carries, means more blood in the body. That equally means more blood for the kidneys to work through regularly and can significantly increase the chance for kidney diseases to develop. 

Can kidney disease be cured?

At the time of writing, no. While kidney disease can be halted, it cannot be reversed to the point where your kidneys can be fully restored. However, proper treatment and lifestyle changes can return your life to normal while providing significant improvements. 

What is the best treatment for kidney disease?

For stages one through three, a change in lifestyle and diet is crucial to halt any further kidney disease progression. Stages one and two of kidney disease categorize damages as mild, meaning you can make simple changes to your daily life to improve your chances. 

At stage three, your doctor can prescribe you medication to help halt further deterioration. Staying at stage 3 is entirely possible, but focusing on diet, a healthy lifestyle, and your doctor's advice is vital. 

Stages four and five are points where the deterioration of your kidneys is significant enough to warrant more extensive and expensive treatment. At this point, the focus is less on lifestyle changes and more on preventing kidney failure. According to the National Kidney Foundation, dialysis is needed when the kidneys are at about 10% to 15% effectiveness. Depending on your condition, dialysis is done at a hospital, dialysis center, or in your home with medical professionals' instruction. 

A kidney transplant is the final option for those needing treatment for end-stage kidney disease or kidney failure. Done entirely by medical professionals, kidney transplants add up to 20 years if from a living donor and vastly improve a person’s quality of life. 

How do you deal with low kidney function?

Simply put, living with low kidney function should be viewed as a hyper-healthy lifestyle. Your diet should be adjusted, testing should be done, and being active can help. Managing cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and vitamin levels are essential. When fulfilled, life can go smoothly, with work and travel still possible. Although there is no question that you will need to be far more mindful of how you conduct yourself daily, living with low kidney function while being happy is entirely possible!

Source:

  1. “Quick kidney disease facts and stats.” kidneyfund.org, American Kidney Fund, https://www.kidneyfund.org/all-about-kidneys/quick-kidney-disease-facts-and-stats.
  2. “Your Kidneys & How They Work.” niddk.nih.gov, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidneys-how-they-work.
  3. Khatri, Minesh. “Kidney Disease (Chronic & Acute) - Causes, Risk Factors, Stages.” WebMD, 31 August 2022, https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-kidney-disease-basic-information.
  4. García, Guillermo García, et al. “Sex and gender differences in chronic kidney disease and access to care around the globe.” ScienceDirect, ScienceDirect, 17 June 2022, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0270929522000092.
  5. NHS. “Overview - Chronic kidney disease.” NHS.UK, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-disease/.
  6. “Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease.” CDC.gov, Center for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/diabetes-kidney-disease.html.

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Wayne C. Hahne,

English graduate and Call-On-Doc’s medical resource guide, Wayne C. Hahne is an experienced and passionate medical education content expert. Through diligent research, provider interviews and utilizing the industry's leading resources for wellness information, it is Mr. Hahne’s personal mission to educate the general public on medical conditions with in-depth and easy-to-understand written guides.

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