According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 15% of adults in the United States have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Yet, 90% of those with CKD don’t know it, which amounts to around 33 million unknowing American adults with CKD. In honor of March being National Kidney Month, this blog is dedicated to spreading awareness about CKD. After reading, we hope you will:

  • Understand the kidneys’ function and chronic kidney disease
  • Know your own risk factors for CKD
  • Be able to spot symptoms of CKD in yourself and others
  • Get tested for CKD

The Kidneys & Chronic Kidney Disease

In the human body, we have two fist-sized kidneys on either side of the spine, below the rib cage. When blood reaches the kidneys, it is filtered and returned to the bloodstream. The wastes filtered out of the blood are mixed with water and chemicals to excrete via urine. If the kidneys are damaged and their performance decreases over time, this is called chronic kidney disease. When a person develops CKD, the kidneys are unable to filter the blood and excrete waste properly. Eventually, the damage caused during CKD can lead to kidney failure, when the kidneys stop working completely. During kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease, a kidney transplant or dialysis is required to stay alive. 

Risk Factors

As mentioned in the beginning of this blog, most people with CKD don’t even know it! This is because symptoms of CKD often go unnoticed until the disease is more advanced. However, it’s crucial to catch CKD early so that you can stop, or at least slow, the progression of the disease. The only way to know if you have early stage CKD, is to get a urine and/or blood test, which is why it’s important to know your risk. Those at highest risk of CKD include people with: 

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Family members with CKD
  • Age over 60 years
  • African American, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian American race or ethnicity
  • Damage to the kidneys due to conditions such as glomerulonephritis or kidney cancer

Signs & Symptoms 

Symptoms begin presenting as CKD advances. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may have a more advanced stage of CKD, and should talk to a doctor ASAP: 

  • Swollen ankles, feet or hands
  • Blood in urine
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache

Testing for CKD

The signs and symptoms of CKD can easily remain undetected until the kidneys are severely damaged. As damage cannot be reversed, its crucial to get tested for CKD, especially if you are at risk or show any symptoms. A doctor will use a blood and urine test to determine if you have CKD. Here’s a little more information about each of these tests:

  • Blood Test for Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR)
    • GFR determines how well the kidneys are filtering blood
    • Since the kidneys are supposed to remove creatine from the blood, the GFR is measured by testing for creatine in the blood
  • Urine Test for Albumin
    • Albumin is a protein that should not be filtered out of the blood into urine
    • When the kidneys are damaged, they allow albumin to pass through the urine. So, the detection of albumin in urine can indicate CKD

This National Kidney Month, make sure that you aren’t one of the 33 million unaware Americans with CKD by getting tested for CKD! Further resources about treatment and prevention of CKD can be found here