Chronic Kidney Disease is one of the most common and widespread diseases in the world. In the US, it affects over 25 million adults, while many more are at risk of developing CKD because of family history or having faced other kidney problems. Chronic diseases refer to those which develop over a longer period of time and it is only when significant damage has been done that they start to show symptoms. CKD is no different.
Before going into the causes and symptoms of this disease, let’s first look into how our kidneys function so we better understand the science behind the disease as well.
Function of the kidneys
Kidneys are one of the vital organs of the body and are located right beneath the ribcage, towards the back. They are connected with the bladder by way of thin tubes called ‘ureters’. The main role that our kidneys play in the body is that of cleaning the blood. They filter the blood by removing waste products and excess fluids, sending them out of the body through urine. It is the ureters that take the waste products from the kidneys to the bladder and subsequently, out of the body. The kidneys perform this function because of millions of nephrons, which are the kidneys’ very own filters.
Dysfunction in the kidneys and their filtering centers (the nephrons) increases the amount of waste products in the blood because they are not being filtered and excreted at the same optimal rate that a healthy kidney should do.
Causes and symptoms of CKD
The main causes of chronic kidney disease are hypertension and diabetes. In diabetes, the blood sugar level goes beyond the safe limit putting vital organs at risk, kidneys being one of them. In hypertension, the blood pressure against the blood vessel walls increases considerably. Kidney failure is one of the leading outcomes of hypertension, in addition to heart attacks and strokes. Both hypertension and diabetes, leading to chronic kidney disease, point towards unhealthy lifestyle manifested in poor eating habits mainly. But it is not the only cause in all the cases. Often, factors like family history and some birth defects such as solitary kidney also lead to slow progression of kidney disease.
Some of the common and apparent symptoms of chronic kidney disease include persistent tiredness, significantly weakened eyesight, loss of appetite, swelling in feet and ankles mainly, trouble in sleeping, and notable increase in the number of times you need to urinate in a day. High blood pressure as a cause of kidney disease often results in internal bleeding in the eyes as well. If unchecked for dangerously long time, it can result in brain damage as well.
CKD, in most of the cases, ends up in chronic kidney/renal failure. Although the ultimate solution is kidney transplant, there are various reasons why it cannot be done immediately. The short term solution is putting the patient on dialysis, which performs the function of the kidneys; cleansing the blood. Depending on the condition of the patient, its frequency can be anywhere between once and thrice a week.
If there is any other disease or infection in the body, it is difficult to conduct transplant because the donor kidney has chances of being rejected by the body. In order for the kidney to be accepted in the body, immune system has to be suppressed, which is not possible in the presence of an infection. It is only when the body has been cleared of all kinds of infections and other deficiencies that immune system can be suppressed by means of immunosuppressant medicines and the foreign kidney be accepted by the body’s own defense mechanism.