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Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a long term condition where the kidneys are not working properly. It cannot be cured but it can be successfully treated and managed.

A guide to understanding your kidney disease

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)


Diagram showing the position of the kidneys in the body and how they connect via the ureter to the bladder

Your kidneys filter blood to get rid of the waste and water your body doesn't need.

CKD means that your kidneys are not working properly. Chronic means that the condition is long term, but not necessarily serious. Many people have CKD, most of them feel quite well and only the minority develop kidney failure.

 If you have mild CKD adopting a healthy lifestyle is important to reduce the risk of further kidney deterioration. Treatment to prevent raised blood pressure may be recommended by your doctor.

Where are my kidneys and what do they do?
Most people have two kidneys, they are located at the back of your body below your ribs. The functions of the kidneys include:
  • filtering your blood to make urine, enabling your body to get rid of waste and water it doesn't need, also regulating the salts and minerals in your blood
  • controlling your blood pressure
  • keeping your bones healthy
  • making red blood cells.
If your kidneys are not working properly some or all of these functions may be affected to some extent.
What are the symptoms of CKD?
In the early stages of CKD you often have no symptoms. Later on you may have some or all of these symptoms at different times:
  • tiredness
  • lack of appetite
  • sickness
  • cramp in your legs
  • itching
  • swollen ankles
  • shortness of breath
Many of these symptoms will improve when you start treatment.
How do you find out that there is a problem with my kidneys?
The problem with your kidneys may have been discovered through one of the following ways:
  • a urine test, perhaps done for work or for medical insurance;
  • a very high blood pressure reading;
  • a routine blood test done for another reason.
If you doctor finds something is wrong with your kidneys they may do more tests. This may include taking blood, x-rays, ultrasound pictures and/or a kidney biopsy. These tests are needed to see the exact damage to your kidneys.
Why have my kidneys failed?
You may already know why your kidneys are not working properly. If you do not know why, you can talk to your doctor or nurse about this. There are a lot of conditions that can damage your kidneys.Two of the commonest causes are diabetes and high blood pressure, also called hypertension, but often CKD is a consequence of the normal ageing process.

Sometimes it is not possible to find out why your kidneys have failed. But this does not usually affect your treatment.

How do you know the extent of my kidney damage?
If you have CKD you will be given regular blood tests at your clinic. The results can be used to calculate your estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR). This gives us a rough idea of the amount of remaining healthy kidney function provided by your kidneys.

Young people with completely healthy kidney function will have an eGFR of 90% or more but people can remain well with much less than this.

You might start to experience some significant symptoms once your percentage of remaining kidney function is down to 20-30% of normal. If your kidney function reaches 10-12% of normal, your kidneys are failing and you will need to have a specific treatment in the form of dialysis, transplantation, or conservative management.

What can be done do to slow down damage to my kidneys?
There are general things that you can do to slow down any damage to your kidneys and keep them working adequately for as long as possible. The most important thing is to attend your medical appointments, no matter how you feel, and to keep taking any medication prescribed by your doctor. You can also help by:
  • keeping good control of your blood pressure, this may mean taking medication
  • stopping smoking
  • eating a healthy diet
  • keeping active
  • keeping good control of your sugar levels if you are diabetic