Chronic kidney disease: What is it and how can it be prevented?
Chronic kidney disease occurs when your kidneys are too damaged to filter the blood properly. It is termed chronic as the damage to the kidneys occur over a period of time. Malfunctioning kidneys result in a build-up of toxins in the body which can in turn have serious repercussions.
CKD is often associated with ageing. However, it can happen to anyone and at any age. In this article let us take a closer look at this silent disease and how we can prevent it from interfering with our daily life.
What are kidneys and how do they work?
Kidneys are two fist-sized organs which are situated at either side of the spine at the lowest level of the rib cage. Kidneys contain millions of nephrons where the blood is filtered.
Most of us know that the basic function of the kidneys is to remove toxins, waste and excess fluid from the blood and push it out of the body in the form of urine. Kidneys also play a major role in regulating the body’s salt, potassium and acid content. Apart from this, kidneys produce hormones that affect other bodily functions such as blood production.
Chronic kidney disease symptoms
CKD is often considered to be a silent disease as it does not show any symptoms in its early stages. This condition worsens over time and can eventually result in complete renal (kidney) failure. In many cases, CKD is diagnosed during routine check-ups or during investigations for other concerns.
In the early stages, your kidneys may still function well enough that they do not cause any obvious symptoms. People can even lead normal lives with just one kidney. Detecting CKD in early stages is the best way to prevent further damage to your kidneys and avoid kidney failure.
In advanced stages, people with CKD can experience
- Swollen feet, ankles or hands (oedema)
- Shortness of breath
- Bloody urine
- Dry skin
- Abnormal urination (excess or too little)
- Muscle cramps
- Sleep disorders
- Unusual or rapid Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness or itching
If left unmonitored, CKD can lead to other health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure etc. It also increases your risk of having strokes and heart attacks. There is also a greater risk of developing acute kidney injury (AKI) which is a sudden change in kidney function due to medication, illness or injury.
How does CKD impact our day to day life?
When we think of any kidney disease, the first word that comes to our mind is dialysis. This is a common misconception. Many also think that CKD means kidney failure. This is far from true. In fact, most people with kidney disease do not even need dialysis as long as they make certain lifestyle and dietary changes on time to protect their kidneys.
The most important thing to remember is that CKD is a progressive disorder. Basically, it worsens with time eventually resulting in kidney failure. Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are so damaged that they work at less than 15% of capacity. So, if you start your treatment on time and make lifestyle changes, you can avoid long term effects of CKD.
What causes CKD?
CKD is generally the result of excessive strain on the kidneys. In many cases, a combination of a number of factors causes kidney damage. Some of the most common causes of CKD include diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, kidney infections, polycystic kidney disease (genetic disease) and prolonged use of certain medications.
How is CKD diagnosed?
Chronic kidney disease or CKD is diagnosed with the help of blood and urine tests. The presence of increased levels of certain proteins in urine and/or blood generally indicate kidney damage. These tests are also used to define the stage of kidney disease or the degree of damage to the kidneys.
If you are identified as a high-risk candidate for CKD (having a family history of kidney disease or diabetes, high blood pressure etc) then you are advised to go for routine check-ups so as to monitor your renal (kidney) health.
Can CKD be treated?
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for CKD as the damage to the kidneys is permanent. However, further damage can be avoided with a combination of the following treatments:
- Lifestyle changes to promote healthy renal function.
- Medications to manage secondary conditions which cause kidney damage such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc.
- Routine dialysis to filter the blood.
- Kidney transplant in case of kidney failure and advanced stages of CKD.
What are some healthy habits that can prevent kidney disease?
The most basic steps to take for better kidney health are:
1. Drink enough water
The trick is to drink the right amount of water. Too little water intake can prevent your kidneys from effectively filtering the blood causing issues such as kidney stones. Too much water can cause an imbalance in the salt levels in your body. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the appropriate daily fluid intake is approximately 3.7 litres for men and 2.7 litres for women.
Your fluid intake also depends on the amount of physical activity you do, your environment and your general health.
Diet plays a major role in maintaining renal health. The most important things to keep in mind are:
- Consume less salt and processed sugars
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
- Increase your intake of whole grains
- Switch to low-fat or no-fat dairy products
- Avoid food containing high values of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salts and added sugars
Many doctors recommend keeping a “food journal” to record and monitor whatever you eat.
Physical activity and exercise are essential for overall health including renal health. Most adults are advised to perform any form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day. The amount of exercise as well as the intensity of the physical activity depends on your overall health. So, consult your doctor for a better idea of what would be best for you.
Maintain your body weight
People with obesity or overweight are more prone to a wide range of secondary conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol etc. Kidney disease is also one such complication that can arise due to overweight or obesity. If you have any of these conditions, you can consult bariatric surgeons for long term solutions in case exercise and diet are not showing the desired results.
Get enough sleep
Sleep disorders can be associated with a wide range of physiological and psychological issues such as obesity and depression. Medical experts recommend an average of 7-8 hours of sleep every night for adults.
What makes maintaining kidney health so important is that kidney damage occurs over a long period of time with barely any outward signs. So, by the time symptoms start to show, it might be too late to prevent kidney failure. This is especially relevant for people who are more prone to kidney damage such as diabetic patients. In such cases, routine check-ups are advised to monitor renal health.
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