Do I have kidney disease?
Your kidneys perform the essential work of removing toxins, waste products, and excess fluid from your blood. They also play an important part in red blood cell production and maintaining healthy blood pressure.
When your kidneys are no longer performing this work at an ideal level, you may develop kidney disease. Most people with a condition are unaware that they have it.
Several treatment options can help with kidney disease, such as following a kidney-healthy diet and taking medication to help slow the disease progression.
What are the signs of kidney disease?
Several signs can help you identify whether you have kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Although these only typically occur after you’ve had the condition for some time.
You might experience:
- trouble concentrating
- problems sleeping
- dry or itchy skin
- blood in urine
- increased urination
- foamy urine
- puffiness around the eyes
- swollen ankles and feet
- poor appetite
- muscle cramping
According to the NKF, these symptoms don’t always show up until the disease has progressed toward the late stages, where there are high amounts of protein in the urine or the kidneys are failing.
You might only find out that you have kidney disease if a doctor does a blood or urine test to check for the condition.
How is kidney disease diagnosed?
If you’re at high risk of kidney disease, a doctor might recommend regular testing for kidney disease. The two most common ways of checking for the condition are:
- a urine albumin-creatinine ratio (uACR) test
- your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR)
The uACR test measures the amount of a protein called albumin in the urine. If the kidneys are working as usual, there should be no albumin in the urine.
An eGFR value can estimate how well your kidneys are filtering blood. Your body naturally produces a waste product called creatinine during the process of breaking down muscles.
Kidneys filter out creatinine from the blood. High creatinine levels in the blood can mean the kidneys are not filtering as well as they should be.
Doctors use these tests to monitor the progress of kidney disease. If the treatment is working, your eGFR should stay the same, and the urine albumin should either stay the same or decrease.
If you have a diagnosis of kidney disease, you can take several steps to help manage the condition. A healthcare professional may recommend medications and lifestyle measures to help stop or slow the progression of kidney disease.
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Several lifestyle measures can help. These include:
- maintaining a weight that’s healthy for you
- exercising regularly
- aiming to meet your blood sugar goals if you have diabetes
- getting quality sleep
- managing your blood pressure levels
To manage your kidney disease, a doctor might prescribe several medications that help treat any underlying conditions you may have, such as high blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels.
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: These drugs help lower blood pressure and include benzapril (Lotensin) and ramipril (Altace).
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs): These drugs treat high blood pressure and even heart failure. Examples include losartan (Cozaar) and telmisartan (Micardis).
- Diuretics: Also known as a water pill, this medication can help decrease blood pressure and prevent fluid buildup in the body. These are available over the counter.
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Your diet can play a big role in kidney disease management. It can be beneficial to work with a dietician to develop an eating plan that’s right for you. Some general guidelines include:
- incorporate kidney-friendly foods into your diet, such as eggs, yogurt, and whole grains
- reduce sodium by eating more fresh foods and fewer processed foods
- eat smaller portions of protein foods
- limit fats, especially saturated and trans fats, to protect your heart
- eat heart-healthy foods such as beans, vegetables, and fruits
Another aspect of kidney disease treatment often involves regular testing of kidney function to see whether interventions, such as diet and medications, are working.
Risk factors for kidney disease
Some medical conditions and other factors can raise your risk of developing kidney disease. The major risk factors include:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- family history of chronic kidney disease
If you have a risk factor, a doctor might recommend regular testing of your kidney function, such as uACR and eGFR tests. Managing these underlying conditions can also be an important part of preventing and managing kidney disease.
About 1 in 7 U.S. adults have kidney disease. Most people may be unaware that they have it, as symptoms tend to show up once the disease reaches the later stages.
You might be at higher risk if you have a condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity. In this case, a doctor might recommend regular testing of your kidney function.
You can manage kidney disease with medications, lifestyle, and dietary changes.
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- 10 signs you may have kidney disease. (2020). https://www.kidney.org/news/ekidney/august14/10_Signs_You_May_Have_Kidney_Disease
- Are your kidneys at risk? (2021). https://www.ncqa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/NCQA_Kidney-Health_Patient-Infographic_Digital.pdf
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD). (n.d.). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd
- Chronic kidney disease basics. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/basics.html
- FDA approves treatment for chronic kidney disease. (2021). https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-treatment-chronic-kidney-disease
- High blood pressure. (2021). https://www.fda.gov/consumers/womens-health-topics/high-blood-pressure
- McMurray JJV, et al. (2021). Effect of dapagliflozin on clinical outcomes in patients with chronic kidney disease, with and without cardiovascular disease. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.051675
- Superfoods. (n.d.). https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/superfoods