Kidney Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Kidney Disease: Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for various types of kidney disorders, including chronic kidney disease, renal failure, and more.

Dr. Andrew Bentall from Mayo Clinic explains chronic kidney disease. It’s a progressive issue that hurts and weakens the kidneys over time. About one in seven American adults has this problem, but many don’t know it.1 Our kidneys are vital. They clean waste, balance fluids, make hormones, and help with vitamin D. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues can lead to kidney disease. Symptoms often show up late, so finding it early with tests is key to treating it well. This article looks into symptoms, causes, and how to diagnose and treat different kidney problems. These include chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, and more.

Key Takeaways

  • Chronic kidney disease affects about one in seven American adults.1
  • Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of chronic kidney disease.2
  • Early detection of kidney disease through routine tests is crucial for effective treatment.1
  • Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, can help manage kidney disease.1
  • Treatments for kidney disease aim to slow disease progression and manage complications.2

Understanding Kidney Disease

The kidneys are vital organs that look like beans. They sit on each side of your spine, above your waist.2 These organs are key to keeping your body healthy and in balance. They filter waste and extra fluid from your blood. They also help control the minerals in your body. Your kidneys even create hormones that manage your blood pressure. Plus, they make red blood cells and help your bones stay strong with vitamin D.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) happens when these organs can’t filter toxins well. It leads to a waste buildup in your body. Without the right treatment, CKD can cause kidney failure.

What are Kidneys?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on either side of the spine, just above the waist. They play a crucial role in your body’s functions.

Functions of Healthy Kidneys

Your kidneys do a lot to keep you healthy. They take out waste and extra fluids from your blood. They also make sure the minerals in your body are balanced. Besides, they create hormones that control your blood pressure.2 They produce red blood cells and help your bones with vitamin D. All this is important in staying well.

Chronic Kidney Disease Overview

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) decreases the kidneys’ ability to filter toxins.23 This causes waste to build up in your body. If not treated, it can lead to kidney failure. Knowing about CKD’s causes, symptoms, and how to manage it is crucial for keeping your kidneys healthy.

Causes of Kidney Disease

Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are major causes of kidney disease. They harm the kidneys over time with high blood sugar.1 This makes kidney damage likely.

High blood pressure is another key player. It wears out the blood vessels to the kidneys. This affects how well they work. Over time, their function weakens.

Genetic Conditions

Genetic problems, like polycystic kidney disease, can affect the kidneys’ structure.1 This can lead to kidney disease.

Autoimmune Diseases

Lupus, an autoimmune disease, can make the body attack the kidneys.1 This attack can damage the kidneys.

Kidney Structure Defects

Structural problems in the kidneys or urinary tract from birth can cause issues. It might block urine flow, leading to kidney damage.1

Being exposed to certain toxins or medicines over time is also risky. They can add up, causing chronic kidney disease.


13 Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, stands out as a top cause of kidney disease. It affects a lot of people in this way.1

High Blood Pressure

1 High blood pressure damages the vessels to the kidneys over time. This affects their function.

3 In the US, 37 million adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Sadly, about 90% don’t know they have it.

3 To manage CKD, treatment focuses on the diseases that might have caused it. It aims to slow CKD’s progress and reduce the risk of heart problems.

3 Doctors might give medicines like ACE inhibitors or recommend lifestyle changes. These help manage CKD.

3 For diet, CKD patients should limit sodium. Adjusting other mineral levels based on blood tests is also crucial. A dietitian can provide personalized advice.

3 For lifestyle, quitting smoking, regular exercise, and proper sleep are important. Managing other health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, is key.

3 People with CKD should avoid NSAIDs. These can hurt the kidneys. Acetaminophen is usually a safer option at the right doses.

3 Eating more fruits and veggies can help. It lowers blood acidity for those with metabolic acidosis. This might slow down CKD.

causes of kidney disease

Risk Factors for Kidney Disease

Several things can raise the chance of having kidney disease. If someone in your family has had it, like a parent or sibling, you might be at a higher risk because of genetics.4 Getting older also makes the risk go up since our kidneys naturally work less as we age.

Being overweight is a big factor. This is because it’s often linked to diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, which can harm your kidneys.4 Moreover, smoking and using certain drugs for a long time, even things you can buy without a prescription, can hurt your kidneys too.1 It’s crucial to know these risks to help prevent kidney disease or slow it down.

Family History

4 If someone in your family has had kidney disease, your chances of getting it may be higher.


As you get older, your kidneys naturally start to work less. This makes the risk of kidney disease go up too.


4 If you’re obese, especially with a body mass index over 30, your risk for kidney disease is higher. High blood pressure and diabetes, often linked to obesity, are two big causes of kidney issues.


1 Smoking is a leading risk for kidney disease.

Medication Use

1 Some medications, like over-the-counter pain relievers when used long-term, can harm your kidneys.

Kidney Disease Symptoms

In the early stages of1 kidney disease, symptoms might not show up. But, as it gets worse, you might notice some signs. These signs could be feeling sick to your stomach, muscle cramps, not wanting to eat, swelling in the feet and ankles, skin that’s dry and itchy, trouble breathing, problems sleeping, and changes in how often you go to the bathroom.5

As kidney disease progresses, these signs become more severe.5 It’s key to know, these symptoms could point to different health issues. So, you should see a doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing Kidney Disease

Healthcare providers start diagnosing kidney disease with a series of tests.6 They use blood tests to check the levels of waste products. These include creatinine and urea, which the kidneys get rid of.7 These tests show how well the kidneys are working and the levels of waste in the blood.6

Providers also do urine tests. These can find blood, protein, or other signs that the kidneys might be damaged.7 Urine tests help spot problems with the kidneys early. They also show what might be causing the damage.

Imaging Tests

7 Tests like ultrasound look at the kidneys’ structure and size. They help find any hidden problems.6 Other tests, including MRIs, CT scans, and kidney biopsies, check for kidney damage.

Kidney Biopsy

7 Sometimes, a kidney biopsy is needed. This means taking a tiny bit of kidney tissue to look at under a microscope. Doctors do this to find out what’s causing the kidney disease.7 A biopsy is often the best way to understand kidney problems.

These tests work together to show the health of your kidneys.6 Knowing the stage of your kidney disease helps plan the right treatment. This way, doctors can help you manage the problem better.

diagnosing kidney disease

Types of Kidney Disease

Many kinds of kidney disease can harm people. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) slowly damages kidney function. About 1 in 7 adults in the US have CKD. Sadly, 40% of them don’t know.2

Polycystic kidney disease is inherited and causes cysts on the kidneys. This affects their waste filtering.2 Lupus nephritis occurs when lupus harms the kidneys. It’s your immune system turning against your organs.2 Drugs can also cause kidney issues, leading to swelling and scarring. This disease is called interstitial nephritis.2 Lastly, glomerulonephritis damages the kidney’s filters, making it hard to clean the blood.2

Kidney problems can be very rare, like in Alport and Fabry disease. But, things like IgA nephropathy and lupus nephritis are more common.8 Chronic kidney disease is widespread, affecting how our bodies remove waste.8 Some conditions, like APOL1-Mediated Kidney Disease, are more likely in people with African heritage.8

The data from a study on kidney diseases shows a wide variety of conditions. These include Abderhalden–Kaufmann–Lignac syndrome and more. Each one is unique.9

Knowing the type of kidney disease is key to treating it right. With this knowledge, doctors can create plans that meet each person’s needs.

Treatment Options for Kidney Disease

The way we treat kidney disease depends on what’s causing it and how serious it is. Doctors might give medicines to help with issues like high blood pressure or diabetes, which can harm the kidneys.10 Common meds like ramipril, enalapril, and lisinopril are used to regulate blood pressure in kidney patients.10 If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), you might need to keep your blood pressure lower than 140/90mmHg. And if you also have diabetes, the goal might be even stricter, aiming for less than 130/80mmHg.

Dietary Changes

Eating right is vital for managing kidney disease. For example, cutting back on protein can ease your kidneys’ workload and slow down disease advance.10 It’s also important for CKD patients to limit salt to under 6 grams a day. This helps with blood pressure and keeps the kidneys working well.


When kidney disease gets very bad, and the kidneys fail, dialysis steps in to do their job.7 This treatment clears out waste and extra water from the blood artificially. A kidney transplant, on the other hand, switches out a sick kidney for a healthy one from a donor.10 With haemodialysis, the patient usually needs treatment 3 times a week. This could be at the hospital or even at home. Peritoneal dialysis, another type, happens daily or overnight.

Kidney Transplant

If a kidney transplant is possible, it’s a big help. The new kidney goes in the lower belly, and its connections are made to the person getting it. Their old kidneys might stay if they’re not causing problems.10 Most kidney transplants work really well, with over 90% being successful.10 Even after 10 years, many still work just fine, though about 10% don’t make it past the fifth year.

Kidney Disease and Acute Kidney Injury

Aside from chronic kidney disease, some people face acute kidney injury. In this condition, the kidneys suddenly can’t work right. It occurs due to several reasons like severe injuries, massive blood loss, or life-threatening infections.11 The chances are higher for those in the hospital, especially in critical condition.11

Immediate medical help is crucial when someone has acute kidney injury. This issue can quickly cause dangerous waste buildups.11 While it can be fatal, quick action treats it. Such treatment might be dialysis or fixing the root problem. This is essential to avoid lasting kidney damage.

12 Elderly people with acute kidney injury face a higher risk of kidney failure. A 2009 article in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology stated this fact.12 Progressing from AKI to chronic disease is common, as explained in a 2011 report in Kidney International.

12 The relationship between AKI and CKD was thoroughly reviewed in 2012 by Kidney International. Knowing the long-term risks of AKI is crucial.12 Preeclampsia poses a serious threat, as shown in a 2008 report in The New England Journal of Medicine.

13 Cancers and diseases like diabetes can lead to AKI. So can infections, and issues like dehydration.13 Many medicines, even antibiotics, could also be a cause. Being aware of these is important.

13 Certain things, when combined, can make AKI more likely. They include items from both the medicine and the health condition lists.13 Diagnosing AKI means doing specific tests to find the cause.

11 Several things can slow blood to kidneys, causing harm. These include heart attacks and severe infections.11 Other than diseases, some drugs and infections (like COVID-19) can cause AKI. It’s crucial to be cautious.

11 Blockages that stop urine flow can also cause kidney issues. For example, cancer in the bladder or small blood clots are risks.11 Many health problems can lead to AKI. Some are staying in the hospital or having diabetes or heart issues.

11 A person with acute kidney injury might face many health challenges. These can include swollen body parts and muscle weakness.11 In worst cases, it can even lead to death.

Managing Chronic Kidney Disease

The main target for those with chronic kidney disease is to slow its advance.7 Teams focus on managing related issues. They do this by finding and managing other conditions, making lifestyle tweaks, and keeping a constant eye on health.

Controlling Underlying Conditions

It’s key to control diabetes and high blood pressure.7 Medicines like ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers are vital. They help with blood pressure and protect the kidneys.7 Most need to keep their blood pressure at or below 140/90 mm Hg when dealing with kidney disease.14 And14, for those fighting diabetes, keeping their A1C below 7 percent is a goal to safeguard the kidneys.14

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle changes are crucial.7 For fluid control, doctors often recommend diuretics and diets low in salt.7 Eating less protein might ease the load on the kidneys.7 Stopping smoking, keeping fit, and managing weight can also keep kidneys healthier.

Regular Monitoring

14 Keeping an eye on kidney function, GFR, urine albumin, and blood pressure is vital.14 Regular testings pinpoint how kidney disease is doing. They, too, show if it’s stable or getting worse.7

By tackling chronic kidney disease head-on, we can often hold off on more serious steps. These include treatments like dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Kidney Disease: Complications

As kidney disease gets worse, it causes several problems. The kidneys can no longer balance fluids and minerals well. This leads to issues like swelling, high blood pressure, and electrolyte imbalances1. They also can’t rid the body of waste correctly. This brings on symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and a strange taste in the mouth. A person might also feel tired all the time. This happens because the kidneys don’t make enough of a hormone called erythropoietin. This hormone helps make red blood cells15.

Kidney problems can harm the bones and make heart issues more likely. Heart attacks and strokes can become a risk15. If the kidney disease reaches a certain point, it’s called end-stage renal disease. At this stage, kidney transplant or dialysis is needed to stay alive1.

People with kidney disease often face gout, which is a type of arthritis,15. Anemia is also quite common, especially in later stages of chronic kidney disease. This stage includes stages 3 to 515. Heart disease poses a major risk to those on dialysis, making it the leading cause of death15. Itchy skin, or pruritus, is worse for people with end-stage kidney disease or on dialysis15. Other problems like metabolic acidosis and hyperparathyroidism are seen in kidney disease patients too15.

Kidney Disease Prevention

There isn’t a cure for chronic kidney disease, but you can take steps to prevent it or slow it down.16 One important step is keeping your blood pressure in check. This can be done by changing your lifestyle or taking medication. High blood pressure damages the kidneys.16 If you have diabetes, it’s vital to keep your blood sugar under control. This helps shield your kidneys.16

Avoid using certain drugs like NSAIDs and some antibiotics too often. Chronic use can harm your kidneys.16

Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure

High blood pressure poses a big risk for kidney issues.16 Keeping your blood pressure normal is key. You can do this by changing how you live or through meds. This can prevent or slow kidney damage.16

The DASH diet is great for lowering your blood pressure. It focuses on fruits, veggies, and whole grains.16 Being physically active, such as 30 minutes of exercise most days, also helps manage blood pressure.16

Diabetes Management

Diabetes is the main reason for kidney disease.16 Keeping blood sugar levels under control is crucial for your kidneys.16 You can do this with medicine, healthy eating, and regular exercise.16

Choosing foods low in added sugars and sticking to a balanced diet helps. The Mediterranean or DASH diet is good for your kidneys.16

Avoiding Nephrotoxic Substances

Some drugs and substances can hurt your kidneys, known as nephrotoxicity.16 Long-term use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen can be harmful.16 Talk to your doctor about other ways to manage pain without harming your kidneys.16

Lowering how much you drink and stopping smoking can cut your kidney disease risk. This is important for kidney health.16

Preventing kidney disease is possible with healthy lifestyle choices.16 Regular visits to your doctor are also vital. They can catch any kidney problems early and treat them.17

Kidney Disease Support and Resources

If you’sre living with kidney disease, there’s lots of support out there. You can find groups to join, both in person and online. These places are great to share your story, learn how to cope, and get advice. Doctors and social workers help by giving you learning materials, counseling, and money help. They’re there to guide you.18

Big groups like the National Kidney Foundation help a lot. They share info and push for better care and research. By using these resources, people with kidney disease can deal with their issues better. They can learn how to control their symptoms and make life better overall.1918

Local help is available too. You can find local and online groups, programs to help caregivers, and places to get meals, like Meal on Wheels. Special groups like Caring Bridge and the National Alliance for Caregiving are also there for those who care for people with kidney disease. They provide a lot of support.18

The US collects a lot of data through the USRDS about kidney disease. This helps improve care for those with the disease. The OPTN and UNOS help with organ transplants. They make sure organs are shared fairly and they match donors with those who need transplants.20

The UNOS handles the US’s transplant waiting list. They connect donors and recipients. They work with many centers across the country. The National Kidney Foundation also has programs to help with medicine and prescription costs. It’s all meant to make getting a kidney easier.20

The ESRD Networks make sure people on dialysis or waiting for a kidney are well looked after. They do checks on clinics to make sure they’re good. There’s also a tool to find and compare dialysis clinics. If you need help, the HRSA can point you to low-cost health centers online.20

Over 11,000 experts belong to the ASN. They work tirelessly to stop kidney disease and help patients. The AST has over 3,000 members also working to further the science of transplants. They research, teach, influence laws, and care for patients. The UNOS Organ Center is there 24/7 to make sure organs get to the right people. This is critical for lifesaving surgeries.19

The PKD Foundation is a key player in the fight against polycystic kidney disease. Their work spans research, advocacy, education, and support. QSource helps healthcare get better. It works with many to make sure patients get the care they need. Dialysis Finder is great for patients who need dialysis. It helps them find centers in the US.19


Kidney disease is a severe health issue, affecting many aspects of a person’s life.21 It’s important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment for different types. This includes chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, and acute kidney injury.22 While we can’t always cure kidney disease, we can slow it down. This is done by managing other health problems, changing our daily habits, and seeing the doctor regularly.21

Doctors and groups working in health help us learn how to prevent kidney problems.22 A full-on effort against kidney disease involves spotting it early, using treatments just for you, and taking charge of your health. This approach can truly improve how we live with kidney disease.


What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition that slowly harms your kidneys. It can cause waste buildup in your body. Without treatment, it can lead to kidney failure.

What are the leading causes of kidney disease?

Diabetes, high blood pressure, and genetic conditions top the list. Autoimmune diseases and birth defects can also cause it.

What are the risk factors for developing kidney disease?

If it runs in your family or you’re older, the risk is higher. Being overweight, smoking, and using certain drugs can also raise the chances.

What are the common symptoms of kidney disease?

Early on, you might not notice any symptoms. Later, you could have nausea, swelling, and changes in how you pee.

How is kidney disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will use blood and urine tests, imaging scans, and sometimes a biopsy. This helps them see how your kidneys are doing.

What are the different types of kidney disease?

Types of kidney disease include chronic and acute forms. There’s also polycystic kidney disease and those related to lupus or infections.

What are the treatment options for kidney disease?

Treatment may include meds, dialysis, a change in diet, or a kidney transplant. The goal is to help your kidneys work better.

What is the difference between chronic kidney disease and acute kidney injury?

Chronic kidney disease gets worse over time. Acute kidney injury happens quickly and needs immediate care to prevent more damage.

How can individuals with chronic kidney disease manage their condition?

If you have CKD, you can manage it by treating its causes and living healthily. Regular medical check-ups are also important.

What are the potential complications of kidney disease?

Things like fluid and mineral problems can happen. You might also develop anemia, bone issues, or heart troubles.

How can kidney disease be prevented?

Keeping your blood pressure in check, managing diabetes, and living healthily can reduce your risk. Also, avoid substances that harm your kidneys.

What support resources are available for individuals with kidney disease?

Many resources are out there, from support groups to help with finances. The National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Nephrology offer support.

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