What in the World Is Chronic Kidney Disease?

What in the World Is Chronic Kidney Disease?

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Your kidneys perform many important functions. Located just below your rib cage, one kidney rests on each side of the spine. Together, they remove waste from the body and balance its fluid levels. They also release hormones that regulate blood pressure, produce a form of vitamin D and control the production of red blood cells.

For people with diabetes, excess sugar in their bloodstream damages the kidneys’ ability to filter waste. If you have diabetes, this waste builds up and makes you sick.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Kidney disease occurs very slowly. You may not experience any symptoms early on. As the disease progresses, signs may include:

  • Feeling itchy or numb
  • Fatigue, weakness and nausea
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss

If you have diabetes, you should talk to your doctor about getting your urine checked for albumin once a year. Albumin is a blood protein. A high level in your urine can indicate kidney disease.

Here’s the good news: Kidney disease can be managed with careful monitoring, medications and lifestyle changes. According to the National Institutes of Health leaving site icon, certain lifestyle changes can help.

  • If you smoke, take steps to quit.
  • Be more active and lose weight if you need to.
  • Manage your blood glucose levels.
  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at target levels set by your health care provider.
  • Ask your doctor if you should take a small daily dose of blood pressure medication to protect your kidney from the long-term effects of the disease.
Diabetes and Your Kidneys

There’s a reason people refer to diabetes as a multi-organ disease. Along with damaging the pancreas, diabetes can harm many other organs — including the eyes and nerves — if mismanaged.

Diabetes raises the risk for several conditions. One of the most serious is kidney disease. Diabetes is the primary cause of kidney failure in 44% of all new cases. 

End-Stage Renal Disease

If kidney disease grows worse over time, it can lead to kidney failure. Individuals with kidney failure have less than 15% normal kidney function. This leads to the build-up of waste products and extra water in the body. End-stage renal disease is kidney failure that needs to be treated by dialysis or kidney transplantation. Fortunately, with proper care and lifestyle changes, fewer than 10% of people with diabetes develop kidney failure.

Sources: How Your Kidneys Work, leaving site icon  National Kidney Foundation; Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease, leaving site icon  National Kidney Foundation, 2016

Originally published 3/9/2017; Revised 2021, 2022, 2024