Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease and Its Effects

If you hear the words chronic kidney disease (CKD) or high risk of developing CKD from your health care provider, it can be a little shocking. What does kidney disease mean in practical terms? How worried should you be, and what can you do to stay as healthy as possible?

This condition doesn’t have to be as frightening as it sounds, especially if you take the time to understand how it affects your body.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease or just want to learn more about it, understanding what it is and how it impacts your body as a whole can be a huge benefit to your overall health. You’ll be more equipped to manage any symptoms and better able to discuss any concerns with your primary care provider or a kidney specialist.

What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease refers to damage to your kidneys that gradually causes them to become less effective over time.

Even though you only need one of your two kidneys to live, they play a significant role in your body homeostasis. Your kidneys filter out any toxic substances and waste products in your body. If they’re not functioning properly, these substances can build up and lead to long-term damage.

Kidney disease typically can’t be reversed, but you can alleviate your symptoms and keep the damage from getting worse by making smart decisions about medical treatment and lifestyle.

Chronic Kidney Disease Causes

Multiple conditions can cause chronic kidney disease, including certain health conditions, genetic factors and age, some types of medications, and other disease processes such as infections.  Different causes can require different types of treatment to produce the best results.

Two of the most common causes are diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which put more strain on your kidneys than usual.

With diabetes, higher blood sugar levels can overwork your kidneys and reduce their functionality. This is called diabetic kidney disease.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can damage the blood vessels in your kidneys. Without proper blood flow, the kidneys are no longer able to adequately filter waste and remove excess fluids from your body, leading to an unhealthy build-up of those substances over time.

Both diabetes and high blood pressure can be managed with diet and exercise to prevent or improve chronic kidney disease, but other conditions causing chronic kidney disease are more difficult to manage.

Polycystic kidney disease is a type of genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow in the kidneys, increasing your blood pressure. Other conditions such as auto-immune disorders and lupus have been linked to kidney disease as well.

Common Complications

Kidney disease can cause complications that affect your overall body health. Learning about the most common symptoms and side-effects allows you to identify and manage these problems.

Weakened Immune System

Kidney disease often weakens your immune system, which is your body’s natural defense against illness. You might get sick more often or have worse symptoms when you’re ill. Chronic kidney disease patients who have had a kidney transplant will be taking immunosuppressants, and this will also make their immune system weaker.

To ensure you stay healthy, make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations, and avoid unnecessary exposure to viruses and bacteria.

Fluid Retention

If you notice swelling in your arms or legs, it’s likely the result of fluid retention. Since your body can’t process fluids as efficiently when you have CKD, fluid build-up can occur in your limbs. This may also result in higher blood pressure and, in some cases, fluid in the lungs, which can make it difficult to breathe.


Anemia means you have fewer fully functioning red blood cells, which restricts oxygen circulation in your body. It can leave you feeling tired, weak, and dizzy. Over time, this may also damage other organs in your body, so it’s best to be under the care of a doctor if you have this condition.

Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease is often seen in patients with kidney disease. Many patients with chronic kidney disease have hypertension and diabetes, and these conditions are significant risk factors for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US.

End-Stage Renal Disease

In some cases, chronic kidney disease will progress until the kidneys are no longer functional on their own. This is known as end-stage renal disease or kidney failure. It is a very serious form of kidney disease, but it happens to only a handful of people.

Kidney failure cannot be reversed, but there are some treatment options. These include dialysis and kidney transplants.

Living With Chronic Kidney Disease

It’s important to take steps to limit the damage chronic kidney disease does to your body. This is accomplished by addressing uncomfortable or painful symptoms and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

If you manage your kidney disease properly with the help of a physician, you can still live a long life and keep your condition from getting worse. Small things like taking any prescribed medications, quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating healthy can make a huge difference.

Final Thoughts

A chronic kidney disease diagnosis doesn’t have to mean fear and panic. If you take the time to learn about your condition and adjust your lifestyle accordingly, you can remain healthy and reduce the number of complications you experience.

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