The second Thursday of every March is World Kidney Day, a global campaign whose aims include educating “medical professionals about their key role in detecting and reducing the risk of CKD.”¹ Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be devastating to patients’ well-being or even fatal if not properly treated. It is important not only for healthcare providers to be aware of their role in helping reduce CKD risk, but for patients to be aware of their own risk.
What should you tell your patients if they are concerned about CKD?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of February 2020, approximately 37 million people in the United States were living with CKD, many of them undiagnosed.²
CKD negatively affects the ability of the kidneys to filter waste and toxins out of the blood, which can significantly harm patients’ health over time. This excess waste can cause a variety of lingering health problems, and untreated CKD can in time progress to kidney failure. Complications of CKD can include the following:
- Increased vulnerability to and number of infections
- Lower calcium levels
- Higher potassium levels
- Decreased sex drive
- Cardiovascular disease
Patients may not be aware that they are at a higher risk for CKD. Medical professionals may want to educate any patients who have the following, which are considered to be CKD risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- Older age
- Family history of CKD
In addition, healthcare providers may want to discuss CKD with their Black, Native American, and Asian American patients. Black patients are about 4 times as likely as White patients to develop kidney failure, Native American patients 1.2 times as likely as White patients, and Hispanic patients nearly 1.3 times as likely as non-Hispanic patients.³
Diabetes, hypertension, and other risk factors can cause CKD, but patients should know about other causes. Inherited conditions such as polycystic kidney disease, inflammatory diseases such as glomerulonephritis, immune disorders such as lupus, and repeated urinary infections can all have an impact on the kidneys and play a role in the development of CKD.⁴
CKD symptoms may not appear initially, depending on how slowly the damage is occurring.⁵ Common symptoms of CKD can include the following:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- More frequent urination
- Increased muscle cramps or twitches
- Swelling of the feet and ankles
- Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
- Itchy skin
Although CKD often cannot be cured, treatment focuses on managing the disease and reducing the risk of complications. This may require medication for the patient’s specific complication, such as high blood pressure or anemia. Some patients may need to make changes to their diet and exercise routine for better health. If necessary, more specific lifestyle changes may be needed to help the patient avoid further complications. For instance, patients may need to be advised to quit smoking and limit alcohol intake.⁶
If kidney function continues to decrease or kidney failure begins, more extensive treatment is required. Patients may require dialysis or a kidney transplant. These are permanent and life-changing options, and if patients have not yet reached the point of requiring them, healthcare providers will want to educate them on how to continue managing their condition so they can avoid these steps for as long as possible.
- World Kidney Day. World Kidney Day. https://www.worldkidneyday.org/about/world-kidney-day/. Accessed March 8, 2021.
- Chronic kidney disease basics. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/basics.html. Reviewed February 7, 2020. Accessed March 8, 2021.
- Race, ethnicity, & kidney disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/race-ethnicity. Reviewed March 2014. Accessed March 8, 2021.
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD) – symptoms and causes. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/about-chronic-kidney-disease#causes. Reviewed February 15, 2017. Accessed March 8, 2021.
- Chronic kidney disease. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-kidney-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354521. Accessed March 8, 2021.
- Chronic kidney disease – treatment. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-disease/treatment/. Reviewed August 29, 2019. Accessed March 8, 2021.