Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term condition where the kidneys don't work as well as they should. It's a common condition often linked with getting older. Anyone can get the condition. It's more common in people with high blood pressure and diabetes.

Symptoms of CKD

Kidneys are vital organs that remove excess water and cleanse the blood of toxins. CKD can get gradually worse over time.

Eventually the kidneys may stop working altogether, but this is uncommon. Many people with kidney disease are able to live long, largely normal lives.

People with CKD are 20 times more likely to have life threatening complications with cardiovascular disease than end-stage kidney disease.

It is important to have good control of your blood pressure or diabetes, if you have these conditions, to prevent problems developing.

Early stages of CKD

There are usually no symptoms of kidney disease in the early stages. It may only be picked up if blood or urine tests carried out for another reason detect a possible problem with your kidneys.

Sometimes these tests are carried out to screen (look for) kidney disease if you have a condition that can cause CKD (see below).

Later stages of CKD

A number of symptoms can develop if kidney disease isn't picked up early on or it gets worse despite treatment.

Symptoms can include:

This stage of CKD is known as kidney failure, end-stage renal disease or established renal failure. It may eventually require treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

When to get medical advice

See your GP if you have persistent or worrying symptoms that you think could be caused by kidney disease.

The symptoms of kidney disease can be caused by many less serious conditions. That is why it's important to get a proper diagnosis.

If you do have CKD, it's best to get it diagnosed as soon as possible. Kidney disease can be diagnosed by having blood and urine tests.

Causes of CKD

Kidney disease is usually caused by other conditions that put a strain on the kidneys. Often it's the result of a combination of different problems.

CKD can be caused by:

  • high blood pressure – over time, this can put strain on the small blood vessels in the kidneys and stop the kidneys working properly
  • diabetes – too much glucose in your blood can damage the tiny filters in the kidneys
  • high cholesterol – this can cause a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels supplying your kidneys, which can make it harder for them to work properly
  • kidney infections
  •  kidney inflammation
  • polycystic kidney disease – an inherited condition where growths called cysts develop in the kidneys
  • blockages in the flow of urine – for example, from recurrent kidney stones or an enlarged prostate
  • long-term, regular use of certain medicines – which include lithium and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

You can help prevent CKD by making healthy lifestyle changes and ensuring any underlying conditions you have are well controlled.

Treatments for CKD

There's no cure for CKD. Treatment can help relieve the symptoms and stop it getting worse.

Your treatment will depend on how severe your kidney disease is; with more severe CKD requiring discussion with your doctor at the hospital, to help decide which treatment is best for you.

The main treatments are:

  • lifestyle changes to make sure you stay as healthy as possible
  • medication to control associated problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • dialysis – treatment to replicate some of the kidney's functions; this may be necessary in advanced CKD
  • kidney transplant – this may also be necessary in advanced CKD

You'll also be advised to have regular check-ups to monitor your condition.

Outlook for CKD

CKD can range from a mild condition with no or few symptoms, to a very serious condition where the kidneys stop working. This is sometimes called kidney failure.

Most people with CKD will be able to control their condition with medication and regular check-ups. But if you have CKD, even if it's mild, you're at an increased risk of developing other serious problems, such as cardiovascular disease.

Healthy lifestyle changes and medication can help reduce your risk of developing it.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed December 2018

This page is due for review December 2019

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