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March 1, 2021

Chronic Kidney Disease: Know the Symptoms 

By Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP

March is National Kidney Month, when we raise awareness about chronic kidney disease (CKD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one in seven adults — or 15% of all United States adults — have CKD. That comes out to roughly 37 million people. 

Roughly 48% of people with reduced kidney function are not even aware that they have CKD, and every 24-hours, around 340 people begin dialysis to treat their condition. This disease also carries a staggering cost to the U.S. health care system, totaling more than $87 billion for Medicare beneficiaries in 2017 alone.

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on each side of your lower spine that are roughly the size of a computer mouse. Though they are small, these organs are vital to your overall health, as they remove toxins, regulate blood pressure and the chemicals in your blood, and keep your bones healthy. They filter excess water and waste out of your body’s blood to make urine. Your kidneys also balance the salts and minerals — like calcium, sodium and potassium — circulating within the body.

CKD is a disease in which one or both kidneys are damaged, affecting the proper filtering of the body’s blood and fluids. Over time, CKD can cause kidney failure, necessitating dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant. Excess fluid and waste remaining in the body can also cause other issues, such as heart disease or stroke.

CKD can also result in other severe health consequences:

  • Anemia.
  • Increased susceptibility to infections.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Depression and low quality of life.

Several different factors make a person more likely to develop CKD:

  • Diabetes. Diabetes is the number one leading cause of CKD. High blood glucose from this disease can damage the kidneys’ blood vessels. Nearly one in three people with diabetes have CKD.
  • Heart Disease. People who have heart disease are at a greater risk for developing CKD, and vice versa. Researchers are working to understand this relationship between the two conditions better, but there is an evident link.
  • High Blood Pressure. High blood pressure is the second leading cause of CKD. High blood pressure can also damage the blood vessels in the kidneys. Nearly one in five adults with high blood pressure also have CKD.
  • Family History of Kidney Failure. If any member of your immediate family has kidney failure, you are at risk for CKD, as this disease tends to run in families. If you are diagnosed with CKD, encourage your family members to get tested.
  • African American, Hispanic or American Indian Ancestry. All three of these communities have a greater risk of CKD due to higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Kidneys are incredibly resilient parts of the body that can often continue to function at a high enough rate to keep you feeling well, despite the onset of CKD. This lack of symptoms can make CKD incredibly difficult to diagnose in the early stage. It usually isn’t until CKD has become more advanced that symptoms begin to manifest. For many people, the only way to know they have CKD is to get a blood or urine test from a health care provider, like a nurse practitioner.

Be sure to speak to your health care provider if you are in one of the risk groups previously mentioned or if you develop any of these symptoms of advanced CKD:

  • Chest pain.
  • Dry skin.
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weight loss.
  • Loss of concentration.
  • Increased or decreased urination.

With nearly 37 million adults in the U.S. living with CKD, this is a disease we must take seriously. This National Kidney Month, make an appointment with your health care provider to get your kidneys examined!