Kidney Disease: What it is and What You Need to Know

Kidneys are responsible for regulating pH, salt, potassium, and more. Various diseases, lifestyle habits, and genetic factors can affect kidney function.

What is kidney disease?

The kidneys are a pair of fist-sized organs located at the bottom of the rib cage. There is one kidney on each side of the spine.

Kidneys are essential to having a healthy body. They are mainly responsible for filtering waste products, excess water, and other impurities out of the blood. These toxins are stored in the bladder and then removed during urination.

The kidneys also regulate pH, salt, and potassium levels in the body. They produce hormones that regulate blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells. The kidneys even activate a form of vitamin D that helps the body absorb calcium.

Kidney disease affects approximately 37 million American adults. It occurs when your kidneys become damaged and cannot perform their function. Damage may be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, and various other long-term (chronic) conditions.

Kidney disease can lead to other health problems, including weak bones, nerve damage, and malnutrition.

If the disease gets worse over time, your kidneys may stop working completely. This means that dialysis will be required to perform the function of the kidneys. Dialysis is a treatment that filters and purifies the blood using a machine. It cannot cure kidney disease, but it can prolong your life.

What are the types and causes of kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease

The most common form of kidney disease is chronic kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease is a long-term condition that does not improve over time. It’s commonly caused by high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is dangerous for the kidneys because it can increase the pressure on the glomeruli. Glomeruli are the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys where blood is cleaned. Over time, the increased pressure damages these vessels, and kidney function begins to decline.

Kidney function will eventually deteriorate to the point where the kidneys can no longer perform their job properly. In this case, a person would need to go on dialysis. Dialysis filters extra fluid and waste out of the blood. Dialysis can help treat kidney disease, but it cannot cure it.

A kidney transplant may be another treatment option depending on your circumstances.

Diabetes is also a major cause of chronic kidney disease. Diabetes is a group of diseases that causes high blood sugar. The increased level of sugar in the blood damages the blood vessels in the kidneys over time. This means the kidneys cannot clean the blood properly. Kidney failure can occur when your body becomes overloaded with toxins.

hemodialysis equipment kidney health

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are another common kidney problem. They occur when minerals and other substances in the blood crystallize in the kidneys, forming solid masses (stones). Kidney stones usually come out of the body during urination. Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful, but they rarely cause significant problems.


Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli, which are extremely small structures inside the kidneys that filter the blood. Glomerulonephritis can be caused by infections, drugs, or disorders that occur during or shortly after birth. It often gets better on its own.

Polycystic kidney disease

Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes numerous cysts to grow in the kidneys. These cysts can interfere with kidney function and cause kidney failure.

It’s important to note that individual kidney cysts are fairly common and almost always harmless. Polycystic kidney disease is a separate, more serious condition.

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections of any part of the urinary system. Infections in the bladder and urethra are the most common. They are easily treatable and rarely lead to more health problems. However, if left untreated, these infections can spread to the kidneys and cause kidney failure.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease?

Kidney disease is a condition that can easily go unnoticed until the symptoms become severe. The following symptoms are early warning signs that you might be developing kidney disease:

  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble sleeping
  • poor appetite
  • muscle cramping
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • puffiness around the eyes in the morning
  • dry, scaly skin
  • frequent urination, especially late at night

Severe symptoms that could mean your kidney disease is progressing into kidney failure include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • changes in urine output
  • fluid retention
  • anemia (a decrease in red blood cells)
  • decreased sex drive
  • sudden rise in potassium levels (hyperkalemia)
  • inflammation of the pericardium (fluid-filled sac that covers the heart)

What are the risk factors for developing kidney disease?

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing kidney disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, accounting for about 44 percent of new cases. You may also be more likely to get kidney disease if you:

Research indicates that kidney disease occurs more often in people of African American, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian descent.

How is kidney disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will first determine whether you are at a higher risk of developing kidney disease. They will then run some tests to see if your kidneys are functioning properly. These tests may include:

Glomerular filtration rate (GFR)

This test will measure how well your kidneys are working and determine the stage of kidney disease.

Ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) Scan

Ultrasounds and CT scans produce clear images of your kidneys and urinary tract. The pictures allow your doctor to see if your kidneys are too small or large. They can also show any tumors or structural problems that may be present.

Kidney biopsy

During a kidney biopsy, your doctor will remove a small piece of tissue from your kidney while you’re sedated. The tissue sample can help your doctor determine the type of kidney disease you have and how much damage has occurred.

Urine test

Your doctor may request a urine sample to test for albumin. Albumin is a protein that can be passed into your urine when your kidneys are damaged.

Blood creatinine test

Creatinine is a waste product. It’s released into the blood when creatine (a molecule stored in muscle) is broken down. The levels of creatinine in your blood will increase if your kidneys aren’t working properly.

What’s next?

Next week we’ll take a look at treatment options, kidney failure, and more. Stay tuned!

This article was brought to you by the Proactive Health Management Plan in partnership with Healthline.

  • Sandy Schaefers
    Posted at 09:02h, 28 March

    Thank you

  • Trevor D Gamble
    Posted at 08:24h, 28 March


  • Julie Medlin
    Posted at 13:48h, 27 March


  • Sukhwinder singh
    Posted at 13:48h, 27 March


  • lemuel juan
    Posted at 12:07h, 27 March


  • Lorenzo Currington
    Posted at 10:14h, 26 March

    Get blood work done

1 23 24 25