Kidney Disease

Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
doctor holding fake kidney

Your kidneys perform many important functions, such as:

  • Remove drugs, toxins and waste products from your blood.
  • Regulate and balance fluids in your body.
  • Release hormones that help keep your blood pressure normal.
  • Held produce vitamin D, which promotes strong, healthy bones.
  • Help produce red blood cells.

Each kidney contains tiny structures called nephrons, and each nephron takes unfiltered blood, "cleans" it and shuttles the waste materials to your bladder. The filtered blood is then sent back out to circulate in your body. If your kidneys aren't working well, they don't filter blood properly, which means harmful substances can build up in your blood.

Types and Causes of Kidney Disease

There are more than 40 different types of kidney diseases in two general categories: acute and chronic.

Acute kidney disease is often a complication of:

  • Sepsis, a full body inflammatory response to infection that results in an inadequate blood flow to your organs.
  • An injury or trauma to the kidney.
  • Multiple organ failure.

Acute kidney disease can lead to a permanent loss of kidney function. However, if the kidneys have not been badly damaged, they can often return to normal health.

The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are poorly controlled diabetes and high blood pressure. One cause of kidney disease that is often overlooked is the overuse of pain-relief medicines such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen. These medicines can be toxic to the kidneys when used in amounts beyond the recommended dosage on the package label.

Symptoms

Usually there are no symptoms for early stages of kidney disease, but symptoms may appear as the disease progresses. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diminished appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinating less or more frequently
  • Feeling tired or drowsy
  • Swelling of hands or feet
  • Puffiness around eyes
  • Muscle cramps (especially at night)
  • Dry, itchy skin

If you notice any of these changes in your health, meet with your physician. He or she can determine if further testing and treatment are necessary. And, if you are diagnosed with kidney disease, what you eat can ease the workload of your kidneys. Meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help you create an appropriate eating plan.

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