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Can You Have Kidney Disease and Not Know?


Kidney disease can strike suddenly. This is called acute kidney failure or acute renal failure. It can also be a disease that progresses gradually over months or years, and this is called chronic kidney disease (CKD). The CKD form of the disease has five stages with the last one also being known as End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Stage five is when a patient is in total renal failure. Renal is a Latin word for kidney. Blood tests are the standard way kidney disease is usually detected. Routine checkups should include drawing blood and running diagnostic tests to check kidney function. About 10 percent of the population in the United States have some level of kidney damage, but since many people have no symptoms whatsoever of reduced kidney function, they are unaware until the disease advances and symptoms begin.

Kidney Disease Symptoms

Many of the symptoms also have other causes and usually do not appear until CKD is quite advanced. Increased thirst (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria) can be symptoms, but they are also symptoms of diabetes. Foamy urine output can be a sign of protein spilling into the urine due to kidney disease, and painful urination may be a symptom. Back or side pain in the area of the kidneys, unexplained by other causes, can also be a symptom. Swelling of the hands, feet or face can also be a symptom. These and other symptoms usually prompt a medical doctor to run some tests to determine the cause. Kidney disease is often discovered during a routine blood test. A person can lose 90 percent of the function of their kidneys before any symptoms begin to manifest. Some blood tests only begin to show abnormalities when over 50 percent of kidney function is lost. The estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) is a standard test to help detect kidney disease.

Prime Causes of Kidney Disease

Diabetes leads as a cause of kidney disease. High blood pressure is the second leading cause. Kidneys help control blood pressure, so there is the question of how much the high blood pressure is caused by kidney problems along with how much it is causing kidney problems. Both underlying causes of CKD should be rigorously monitored and controlled. Both diabetes and high blood pressure are controlled by medications and exercise. A little improvement in blood glucose levels may make a person feel better, but the control may not be good enough to help prevent kidney disease. Keeping glucose levels as close to normal for the long term is the goal. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms and is just a number on a chart to many patients. These numbers should also be pursued to be kept as close to normal as possible for the long term.

Early detection is of major importance. Medications and lifestyle changes can slow or halt progression of the disease. Everyone should have an annual checkup that includes blood tests and urinalysis to check for kidney disease. Any symptoms should prompt an immediate visit to a doctor.