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Quick Facts

Chronic Kidney Disease

(Chronic Kidney Failure)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
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Your kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs that produce urine. They're about the size of your fist and are in the back of your abdomen, near your spine. Kidneys balance your body’s water and mineral levels and filter waste out of your blood.

What is chronic kidney disease?

A chronic disease is one that starts slowly and lasts a long time. So, chronic kidney disease is when your kidneys slowly lose their ability to filter (clean) your blood, remove waste, and make urine. Your kidneys stop working over a period of several months or years.

If your kidneys stop working suddenly, you have acute kidney failure. Acute kidney failure that doesn't go away can become chronic kidney disease.

Chronic kidney failure is what doctors used to call chronic kidney disease. They used that term so people didn't confuse it that with other long-term kidney diseases that didn't make the kidneys stop working.

  • Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) are common causes of chronic kidney disease

  • Symptoms start slowly and can include urinating (peeing) at night, tiredness, feeling sick to your stomach, itching, and muscle cramps

  • Later on, you may stop urinating and develop confusion and trouble breathing

  • Doctors diagnose chronic kidney disease by testing your blood and urine

  • You'll need to follow a special diet and take medicines and often will need dialysis (using a machine to clean waste and excess water out of your blood)

  • Sometimes doctors can do a kidney transplant, which is surgery to give you a new kidney

  • Chronic kidney disease can cause death if you don’t get treatment

The Urinary Tract

The Urinary Tract

What are the complications of chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease can cause many problems:

What causes chronic kidney disease?

  • Acute kidney failure, which is when at least one of your kidneys stops working over a short period of time and then doesn’t respond to treatment

  • Blockage of your urine

  • Some diseases that cause your immune system to attack its own tissues

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

Your symptoms depend on how severe your kidney disease is.

Symptoms of mild kidney disease:

  • Needing to urinate several times at night

Symptoms of moderate kidney problems:

  • Feeling tired, weak, confused, and less alert

  • Being less hungry

  • Shortness of breath

  • Feeling sick to your stomach

  • A bad taste in your mouth

With severe kidney problems you may also have:

  • Muscle weakness, twitching, cramping, and pain

  • Not being able to feel things in some parts of your body

  • Restless legs syndrome, which is when you have pain or other bad feelings in your legs, usually at night, that make you need to move them

  • Problems with thinking, confusion, and seizures

  • Severe shortness of breath

  • Sometimes, a white powder on the skin left behind after you sweat

  • Itchiness all over the body

How can doctors tell if I have chronic kidney disease?

Your doctor will do:

  • Blood tests to measure the amount of waste products building up in your blood

  • Urine tests

  • Ultrasound to look at your kidneys

  • Sometimes, take a small piece of one of your kidneys to look at it under a microscope (biopsy)

How do doctors treat chronic kidney disease?

Doctors treat the problem that's causing chronic kidney disease or making it worse. Common treatments are:

  • A special diet that limits how much fluid, salt, phosphorus, and potassium you take in

  • Limiting the amount of fluid you drink every day

  • Having you weigh yourself each day to tell whether you're retaining fluid

  • Medicine to control your blood pressure and balance the potassium and phosphorus levels in your blood

  • Dialysis to remove waste and water from your blood

  • A kidney transplant (surgery to get a new kidney)

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