Chronic kidney disease is when continuous damage to the kidneys leads to progressive failure of their functions.
There is going to be a thorough explanation of chronic kidney disease in this article, its symptoms, how it works, and its dangers. We are also going to talk about how to diagnose it and treat it.
By reading this article, you will get a profound yet simple explanation of a common disease that very often goes under the table because of its lack of symptoms in the early stages. Also, there is going to be a thorough explanation of frequently asked questions including if this disease is reversible.
Please, continue reading to obtain the information you need to understand this disease, directly from a doctor.
What is Kidney Failure?
First of all, to know what kidney failure is, we must understand what the function of a kidney is.
The kidneys are two organs with the shape of a pea in the lower back behind the ribs. They have many features, but the most important one is to filter the blood and excrete the waste of metabolism through the urine.
Moreover, the glomerulus, which is a microscopic unit, is in charge of filtering the blood with a quite complex system. They make sure we keep what we need like proteins and excrete residues like creatinine, a product of muscle tearing.
The kidneys regulate the fluids in the body and the blood pressure by releasing and stimulating hormones. Other functions are participating in the metabolism of red blood cells, Vitamin D, and calcium absorption in the small intestines. They’re also one of the mechanisms the body uses to control the acidity or the alkalinity of the blood.
Now, renal failure is when the ability of the kidney to filtrate blood decreases, progressively causing damage to the body. The kidney can compensate for the damage to its tissue up to 50% of the remaining healthy kidney tissue functioning. When it crosses that line, the kidney injury begins to evident, and the body starts to take its toll.
The reduced control of fluids can easily lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. It also affects the production of red blood cells and the maintaining of consistency of the bones. If doctors don’t treat the disease on time and keep progressing, it can be fatal.
How long does a person have to live with kidney failure?
This situation will depend on the cause of kidney disease and how bad it is in each particular case. Kidney failure has many origins, such as:
- Diabetes: doctors call it diabetic nephropathy or diabetic kidney disease, which is the leading cause of renal failure. In diabetes, the normal metabolism of insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, changes, and glucose levels increases. The increase of blood glucose damages the glomerulus filters and lets through proteins, which harms the control of fluids.
- High blood pressure: The kidneys can’t take high blood pressures, so the arteries that carry the blood to the kidneys get smaller. When these get smaller, less blood flows to the organ, and the kidney senses it as if there’s less blood. That makes the kidneys to absorb more fluids and causes the blood pressure to increase even more. It leads to more damage to the whole body and the kidneys, harming them along the way.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus: This is an autoimmune disease in which the body creates antibodies that attack healthy tissue. These antibodies deposit in the kidney, causing an immune response and producing an injury to the organ.
- Kidney stones: it is an obstructive disease of the urinary tract that causes a lot of pain. Doctors associate the stones to particular risk factors and the person’s nutrition and water ingest. When these stones get stuck, they don’t let the urine pass through, leading to a pressure increase in the kidney. This situation can cause acute renal failure, which can be fatal if it is not controlled on time.
- Polycystic kidney disease: is a hereditary disease that causes abnormal structuration of the kidney.
- Multiple myeloma: is a type of cancer that occurs in the bone marrow and harms the kidneys.
As you may see, many diseases cause damage to the kidneys that lead to failure. Some of these are tied to each other, and some produce other diseases. Depending on each particular case and on the causes, it is possible to know how much time a person can live with kidney disease.
Can you reverse kidney failure?
It is essential to know there are two types of kidney failure: Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or chronic kidney failure and acute kidney failure or acute kidney injury. Through treatment, doctors can reverse acute kidney failure, but it is way less likely when it is CKD.
The source of an acute renal insufficiency can be from massive loss of blood, extreme dehydration, drugs to many others. On the other hand, CKD happens because of chronic diseases that slowly damage the kidney tissue, diminishing the renal function.
An interesting fact is that an acute renal failure that lasts through time can become a chronic renal failure itself. This situation shows us the importance of taking care of our own health in time and not procrastinate these issues.
Some kidney failure is reversible, and others are not because of the type of injury and healing that happens. In acute renal failure, swelling occurs, and cells don’t work correctly, but the structure can go back to normal. In CKD, the tissue dies, and other cells replace it with fibrotic tissue, which is not functional for the organ.
Can you die suddenly from kidney failure?
It depends on its cause as well, but if it’s a significant injury, the person could die quickly. Usually, there are some symptoms or alarm signs the person notices before getting to a bad condition.
CKD is typically asymptomatic, especially in the disease’s initial stages, since the slow onset disguises the symptoms. When there are symptoms in the early stages, the most common ones are:
- Hematuria: It is when the blood cells pass through the glomerulus barriers and go into the urine. This will make it look a reddish, pink color, which is commonly why some patients go to the doctor.
- Polyuria: It is when the amount of urine the kidneys excrete is more substantial than the usual amount for the person.
- Edema: It is an accumulation of liquid in certain parts of the body, depending on the edema’s cause. When the kidneys are responsible, it can be in the ankles, lower limbs, feet, or under the eyes.
When the CKD is in the final stages, it also produces other problems like:
- Anemia: This is felt by the patient as fatigue, reduced mental and physical abilities, and compromised immune system.
- Encephalopathy: The residues the kidney does not filter correctly can lead to coma or even death.
- Skin problems: Dryness and itchiness.
- Loss of weight and muscle mass.
Acute kidney disease has other specific characteristics and is way more sudden than CKD. This kidney problem causes:
- Oliguria: Is the decrease of urine that the kidneys excrete. In some cases, it can stay on normal levels.
- Shortness of breath
After your kidneys stop working, approximately how long can you survive without dialysis or a transplant?
How long a person lives when the kidneys stop working, without any kind of treatment depends on several factors. Doctors say it can range from a few days to some weeks, but it is never guaranteed. It relies on the cause of kidney impairment and the time and the degree of the damage.
Chronic renal failure has many consequences in different systems of the body; one of them is the parathyroid glands. These are four little glands that you can find in front of the throat, and they secrete parathyroid hormone. This hormone increases calcium blood levels when these diminish.
Furthermore, CKD leads to hyperparathyroidism, that is to say, a hyperfunction of the parathyroid hormone. A kidney dysfunction affects the metabolism of calcium and vitamin D, yielding less calcium available.
Therefore, the parathyroid glands sense this low calcium blood levels and excrete excess hormones, which increase the calcium blood levels chronically and affect the body. Excessive blood calcium causes skin problems, more renal diseases, heart failure, or even stroke, making it dangerous.
What are the five stages of kidney failure?
To classify how severe kidney damage is, doctors use glomerular filtration rate to define the level of tissue dysfunction.
The glomerular filtration rate measures the glomerulus’ ability to filtrate, telling you whether there’s trouble or not. This rate uses serum creatinine since it is a residue that the kidney excretes almost in its totality. It also uses the sex of the person, age, weight, height, and other factors. This situation makes it a measure more precise to each patient and not a number that is the same for all.
There are actually six stages since one is set apart into two, and these are:
- G1: GFR 90 ml/min for 1.73 m2
- G2: GFR 60 to 89 ml/min for 1.73 m2
- G3a: GFR 45 to 59 ml/min for 1.73 m2
- G3b: GFR 30 to 44 ml/min for 1.73 m2
- G4: GFR 15 to 29 ml/min for 1.73 m2
- G5: GFR less than 15 ml/min for 1.73 m2
There is also another data doctors use to help be more specific with the disease, by using albumin. This is the most common protein in our blood, and since it’s a protein, it shouldn’t be excreted in the urine. Albuminuria, which is albumin in urine, has its own staging, depending on its size.
Moreover, when doctors use a dialysis treatment with a patient, you can rightfully assume it is a stage 5 kidney failure. It is important to note that health professionals use this staging to define what treatments are best for the person with the disease.
Other techniques doctors use but to diagnose the origin of the failure.
- Renal ultrasonography: Through ultrasound, it can be visualized if there are kidney stones, tumors or others
- CT scan: More specific for masses found in the kidneys like cysts, kidney stones, or tumors.
- MRI: For patients, doctors do not recommend CT scanning because of the damage the contrast can do to the kidneys. It also visualizes blood vessel problems more effectively.
- Biopsy: This study consists of taking a sample of the kidney to study it under a microscope.
How long can you live with stage 5 kidney failure?
Some estimate that a person with stage 5 kidney failure can live up to 10 years with dialysis. Although others now expect it can be up to 20 years, it also depends on its cause.
The people with this kidney failure stage has to take care of themselves as it is not a simple disease. Kidneys get rid of a broad spectrum of drugs, and if it isn’t working, treatments for these patients get narrower. They are also more prone to infections, which are even harder for doctors to treat because of the drugs that cannot be excreted.
How can you keep your kidneys working as long as possible?
A way to keep your kidneys working as long as possible is to treat the disease, which causes the problem. But when this is not an available choice, dialysis is the leading treatment doctors use on these patients.
Dialysis executes the role of the kidneys when they fail by filtering and cleansing the blood through a machine. This process helps balance the number of fluids and minerals in your body as a kidney would do.
The work is done by a hemodialyzer, which filters the blood and then takes it back to the body. A minor surgery must be done by your doctor before the treatment to create an access point in a blood vessel. After this, there is a recovery period from weeks to months, depending on the type of surgery done.
Finally, the treatment is done at least three times per week and can last from 3 to 5 hours approximately.
Other options available that can elongate life are peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplantation. In peritoneal dialysis, the peritoneum, a serous membrane in the abdomen, is used as a blood filter for the treatment.
On the other hand, a kidney transplant is when a person receives a healthy kidney from another person. This is not an easy process sometimes since the donor needs to be compatible with the receptor of the organ. Even after the surgery is done, there can be a rejection of the organ from the receptor’s immune system, causing further problems.
What can be done do to slow down damage to your kidneys?
As I said before, the best option for reducing the damage in the kidney will be to treat the cause of it. Let me illustrate some cases for you.
For example, with an ACE inhibitor, high blood pressure can decrease to normal or more acceptable values. This is a drug that inhibits an enzyme that converts angiotensin-I into angiotensin-II. The latter is the hormone responsible for elevating blood pressure.
ACE has a normal and essential function in the body. Still, when there are kidney problems, it can begin to work pathologically or not healthy. Therefore, there are drugs specifically for decreasing its non-healthy role.
This example was just one type of drug. Still, whatever medication your doctor prescribes that, in this case, diminishes the high blood pressure would have the same beneficial effect on the kidneys of that particular patient.
Similarly, if you are a person with diabetes, it is crucial to take the treatment that you require for lowering the blood sugar levels. When this disease prolongs in time with no treatment, it causes problems in the nerves, eyes, and kidneys.
Besides getting treatment and medications, following a healthy diet helps the body to stay well. In order to keep healthy kidneys, it is vital to drink a large amount of water every day.
If a person suffers from obesity, they must lose weight since it increases cholesterol. This is found in high-fat foods, which nutritionists link to weight gain and cardiovascular problems.
Cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels wall, causing obstruction and poor blood flow to sensible tissues like the heart or brain and, in this case, the kidney. Importantly, it can lead to a heart attack or a stroke in a particular brain area, and both could be fatal. On the other hand, the kidney can suffer from reduced blood flow, which also leads to damage and function’s impairment.
Smoking also has adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and the kidneys, making it one of the worse things a person with chronic kidney failure can do. It contributes significantly to blood vessel damage and overall inflammation state of the body.
Are you having symptoms of it?
This tool is a chronic kidney disease symptoms checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for developing this condition. Therefore, it would help anybody who uses it to determine the likelihood of having it or developing it in the future. Also, the most important feature of this tool is that it is free and would only take you a few minutes.