The kidneys clean blood and keep the balance of minerals and salt in the body under control. They also have a part in controlling blood pressure. When the kidneys are not functioning properly, it can lead to very serious complications. Kidney diseases describe conditions in which the kidneys have lost function.
Definition & Facts
When the kidneys are damaged, it can cause fluids and waste products to build up in the body. This can lead to many serious problems such as weakness, shortness of breath, swelling in the ankles, vomiting, and poor sleep habits.
If the problem is not treated, one's kidneys can stop working completely. This can result in a very serious and potentially fatal condition.
Symptoms & Complaints
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Swelling in the ankles
- A constant unpleasant taste in the mouth and an odor on the breath that smells like urine
- Constant fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Increased blood pressure
- Muscle cramps, especially in the legs
- Pale, excessively itchy skin
- Changes in how much a person urinates
- Chest pain
- Some people exhibit no early signs of kidney disease.
There are several conditions that can cause a person to develop kidney disease or fall under the umbrella of kidney disease. These include:
- Type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Inflammation of the kidneys
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Certain cancers (such as kidney cancer), an enlarged prostate, kidney stones, or any other condition that can obstruct the urinary system for a long period of time
- Vesicoureteral reflux, which is a condition that causes urine to back up into the kidneys
- Recurrent kidney infections
While there are several causes of kidney disease, there are also several risk factors. The following factors can increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Family history of kidney disease
- Old age
- Abnormal structure of the kidneys
- Certain demographics, including African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans are at a greater risk for developing kidney disease.
Diagnosis & Tests
If a doctor suspects that a patient has kidney disease, the first step the doctor would take is to discuss the patient's family history and personal medical history. The doctor would want to know if the patient has high blood pressure, if they are taking any medications that could affect their kidney function, and if there have been any changes in urination. A physical examination would be performed as well as the following tests:
- Blood tests: These will assess the levels of creatinine, urea, and waste products in the blood.
- Clinical urine tests: The doctor would test the urine to see if there are any abnormalities that suggest that the patient could be suffering from kidney disease and kidney failure.
- Imaging tests: The doctor will likely order an ultrasound so that they can see the structure and the size of the kidney. They may also need to do a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan.
- Biopsy: A biopsy may be necessary for the doctor to get a sample of the kidney and then determine what is causing the problem. A local anesthetic would be given, and then a long, thin needle would be inserted through the skin and into the kidney to retrieve a sample.
Treatment & Therapy
The doctor will work to treat what caused the kidney disease in the first place and to stop or slow its progression. Because kidney disease can be both a symptom and cause of high blood pressure, antihypertensive drugs may be prescribed. Because many people who have kidney disease experience a spike in their cholesterol levels, cholesterol medications are often prescribed.
A low protein diet may be recommended. The more protein that a person consumes, the harder the kidneys need to work to filter the waste from the blood. The less protein a person eats, the less the kidneys need to work.
More advanced treatments are required to address more severe cases of kidney disease. Dialysis is necessary when the kidneys can no longer remove the waste and extra fluid from the body. Dialysis performs this function artificially and involves a thin tube being inserted into the abdomen, and a solution that is then used to absorb waste and excess fluids. After a while, the solution would be drained from the body, taking the excess waste with it.
Kidney transplantation could be necessary as a last resort. This is where the diseased kidney is replaced with a healthy one from either a live or deceased donor. After the transplant, the patient would need to take medication for the rest of his or her life to keep the body from rejecting the donor kidney.
Prevention & Prophylaxis
Keeping the diseases that can lead to kidney disease under control is very important in preventing it. Habits like a healthy diet and regular exercise can help stave off underlying conditions and mitigate symptoms.