Kidneys can become damaged after an acute infection, exposure to toxins, a traumatic injury, an obstruction, or most often from chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. The damage interferes with the kidneys’ ability to filter blood to remove waste and excess fluids. As the kidneys fail, the damaging waste products increase in the blood and fluids build up. Heart disease, stroke, and infections are also more common in patients with kidney disease.
Most types of kidney disease are irreversible, but lowering the burden on the kidneys will slow further damage. Lifestyle changes and regular medical care are important steps. Keeping yourself in the best general health will also help keep your kidneys in the best health possible.
Unfortunately, a failing kidney does not give many signs it is in trouble. As a result, many people have a high degree of failure before attention is brought to it. Regular medical care will help you control or eliminate the risk of kidney damage and monitor kidney changes. If you have any of the common conditions below that lead to kidney damage it is important to get regular medical care:
Damage that has already been done to the kidney cannot be repaired. However, lifestyle changes and medical care can help manage most of these situations to decrease further damage.
Your nutrition can play an important role in your kidney health. The waste products and fluid that your kidneys remove come from the foods you eat. Your doctor will likely recommend a special diet based on your stage of kidney disease. You may also be referred to a registered dietitian to help you plan your diet.
Common changes include:
Your diet needs will change as the disease progresses. Further stages may require limits of potassium and fluids. Secondary diseases like kidney stones and diabetes may also require special dietary changes. Find a dietitian that specializes in kidney disease and that you feel comfortable working with. It may make transitions easier to have the same dietitian work with you through each stage.
Adding physical activity to your regular routine can help your mind and body. Although there was a previous concern about physical activity and kidney disease, researchers have found that it can be beneficial in many ways.
Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
For dialysis, either hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis is used to perform the job of the kidneys. Hemodialysis filters your blood through a machine to remove waste. Peritoneal dialysis removes waste with a special liquid that is injected into the abdomen. Depending on the type of treatment and your situation, this process is done at a special facility or at home.
Dialysis may have significant time requirements. Hemodialysis, where blood is filtered through a machine, may be done three days per week for about four hours at a time. Different types of dialysis will have different requirements. There will be an adjustment period as you develop a new schedule. Many people that have dialysis do return to work after an adjustment period. People with physically demanding jobs may not be able to return to work.
A kidney transplant may also be done. You may receive the donated kidney from a living donor (usually a relative) or from an organ registry. Although a kidney transplant can eliminate the need for dialysis, you will need to take immune suppressing medications for the rest of your life.
Working closely with your doctor will help you stay involved in your healthcare plan. Discuss any lifestyle changes you are planning with your doctor, especially major plans like pregnancy. This way you can make choices and plans that will create the best outcome possible.
Talk to your healthcare team about problems affecting your quality of life, as well as any medical problems. There may be alternative treatments or adjustments to your current treatment that can resolve the problems. You also have the right to refuse any treatment if its burdens outweigh its benefits. Discuss your decisions with your family and look into necessary legal work such as wills, living wills, and advance care directives.
The progress of kidney disease is different for each person. Being as informed as possible can help decrease the stress. Planning ahead for future challenges will also help you and your family cope with changes that may arise. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about support systems. Other people managing kidney disease may be able to give you the best insight on making lifestyle changes and working through the treatment process.
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
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Chronic kidney disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 20, 2014. Accessed October 21, 2014.
End stage renal disease. American Kidney Fund website. Available at: http://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-health/kidney-failure/end-stage-renal-disease.html. Updated February 11, 2008. Accessed October 22, 2014.
Keep your kidneys healthy. National Kidney Disease Education Program website. Available at: http://nkdep.nih.gov/learn/keep-kidneys-healthy.shtml. Updated September 17, 2014. Accessed October 21, 2014.
The kidneys and how they work. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/yourkidneys. Updated May 21, 2014. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Kidney disease basics. National Kidney Disease Education Program. Available at: http://nkdep.nih.gov/learn/kidney-disease-basics.shtml. Updated March 1, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Nutrition and chronic kidney disease. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidney.org/sites/default/files/docs/nutrikidfail_stage1-4.pdf. Published 2010. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Treatment option: kidney transplant. American Kidney Fund website. Available at: http://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-health/treatment/transplant.html#.VEeonVd3eRM. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Treatment option: peritoneal dialysis (PD). American Kidney Fund website. Available at: http://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-health/treatment/peritoneal-dialysis.html#.VEeoP1d3eRM. Accessed October 21, 2014.
What you should know about exercise. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/exercisewyska.cfm. Updated March 2014. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Last reviewed October 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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