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Common Questions About Kidney Disease

The American Kidney Fund’s HelpLine answers thousands of questions about kidney health each year. Here are some of the questions we're asked most often:

Kidney Health Questions

Does kidney disease run in families?
How much water should I drink?
Is alcohol bad for my kidneys?
Is soda bad for my kidneys?
Is cranberry juice good for my kidneys?

Dialysis Questions

How long can a person live on dialysis?
What should I do if I have a complaint about my dialysis center?
Can I travel while on dialysis?

Transplant Questions

How can I get a kidney transplant?
How long is the waiting list for a kidney transplant?

Organ Donation Questions

How can I become an organ donor?
Can I sell one of my kidneys?

 

Does kidney disease run in families?

Yes and no.
 
Most cases of kidney disease are caused by diabetes or high blood pressure.  Both diabetes and high blood pressure tend to run in families.  This means that, while you don’t inherit this kind of kidney disease from your parents, you may be at more risk for kidney disease if your family has a history of kidney disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.

The only common kidney disease that is directly passed down from parents to their children is polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

How much water should I drink?

You may not need to drink a full eight glasses of water every day to stay healthy, as once thought, but water is still a better choice than drinks that have caffeine, like soda, coffee or tea.  These drinks can actually make you thirstier.  Avoiding sugary juices and fruit punches is also a good idea, especially if you have diabetes.  Drinking plenty of water may also help prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

Note:  If you have late stage kidney disease or are on dialysis, you may need to limit how much you drink.  Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how much fluid you should have each day.

Is alcohol bad for my kidneys?

Alcohol affects your liver more directly than your kidneys, but it can raise your blood pressure.  High blood pressure can damage the tiny filters in your kidneys.  In fact, high blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure.

Still, in moderation, alcohol is usually not a problem for healthy people.  As a general rule, this means no more than two drinks per day for men or no more than one drink per day for women.

Note:  Alcohol can also be dangerous if taken with some medicines.  Check with your doctor or pharmacist to learn whether it is safe for you to drink.

Is soda bad for my kidneys?

A recent study suggests that drinking two or more cola drinks (either diet or regular) each day may increase your risk for chronic kidney disease.  Other types of sodas (non-colas) did not seem to increase the risk.

Is cranberry juice good for my kidneys?

Cranberry juice is not used to treat or prevent kidney disease, but some evidence suggests that cranberry juice may help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

How long can a person live on dialysis?

There is no limit to how long a person can live on dialysis.  On average, the life expectancy for someone on dialysis is between five and six years, but this can vary a lot depending on a person’s age, other health concerns and how well he/she follows his/her treatment plan.  With good care, it is very possible for a person to live for many years on dialysis.

What should I do if I have a complaint about my dialysis center?

Any problems that you have with your dialysis center should be taken up the chain of command.  If you can’t work out the problem with the person directly involved, talk with the Charge Nurse.  If the problem continues, talk with the Director of Nursing, then the Administrator.  Also let your doctor know about any problems you are having.  If you are still having trouble with your dialysis center, contact the ESRD Network for your area or your state health inspector.

Click here to find the ESRD Network for your area. 

Can I travel while on dialysis?

Yes, but this takes some planning.  You will need to work with your healthcare team to make sure that you don’t miss any treatments.
 
If you are on hemodialysis, ask your dialysis social worker for a list of dialysis centers in the area that you plan to visit.  Contact these centers at least several weeks before your trip to find out which centers can provide treatment while you travel and what other arrangements you may need to make.
 
If you are on peritoneal dialysis (PD), you will need to pack your supplies or arrange for them to be shipped to where you’ll be staying.  If you will be flying and taking a cycler, work with the airline to make proper arrangements for flying with the machine.

How can I get a kidney transplant?

The first step to getting a kidney transplant is to talk with your healthcare team.  Your doctor can tell you if you are a candidate for a transplant and can refer you to a transplant center for testing.  There, you will work with a transplant coordinator who can explain the transplant process in more detail.
 
You will have several tests to make sure that you are healthy enough for the procedure and to make sure that the kidney you get is a good match for you.  You may also need to show that you have healthcare coverage and funds to help pay for the transplant and follow up care.  Once this part of the process is done, you’ll be added to the transplant waiting list and can begin looking for a donor.

How long is the waiting list for a kidney transplant?

The wait for a kidney transplant is different for each person.  Some people get their transplants in a matter of weeks or months.  Other people wait several years for a transplant.  This is because there are so many factors involved.  When an organ becomes available, the transplant team must consider:

  • Blood type
  • Tissue matching (whether the kidney is a good match for you)
  • How long you have been waiting
  • Immune status or antibody levels
  • Distance (how close the organ is to you)
  • Medical need
  • Age (children tend to have shorter wait times than adults)
  • Availability (can you make it to the hospital in time?)
  • Current health
  • Willingness to have immediate surgery (are you ready?)

All of these things can affect the amount of time you wait for a kidney transplant.

How can I become an organ donor?

More than 100,000 men, women and children need life-saving organ transplants.  You can help!  By signing up to be an organ donor and telling your family of your wishes, you can change lives.
 
Each state handles donor registry differently.  Click here to find out how to be a donor in your state.

Can I sell one of my kidneys?

No.  The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 made it illegal to sell organs.

Who pays for dialysis or a kidney transplant?

Please see our page Paying for Treatment to learn about who pays for dialysis or a kidney transplant.

What kind of help does the American Kidney Fund provide?

The American Kidney Fund helps qualifying dialysis and kidney transplant patients with their treatment-related costs, including:

  • Transportation to and from treatment
  • Medicines
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Durable medical supplies
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Some dental costs
  • Dialysis during emergency travel

The American Kidney Fund’s programs do not help with:

  • Hospital or medical bills
  • Rent or mortgage
  • Utility bills (electricity, gas, water, phone)
  • Food

You may be eligible for help from the American Kidney Fund if you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and:

  • Are on dialysis
  • Have a kidney transplant planned
  • Have gotten a kidney transplant in the last 5 years

AND have financial need.  The American Kidney Fund’s programs are a “last resort” kind of help.  The American Kidney Fund will review your household income, reasonable expenses and liquid assets before granting funds.

All applications to the American Kidney Fund’s programs must be submitted by a dialysis social worker or transplant coordinator.

Where else can I get help paying for my treatment?

There are many resources that can help you pay for the treatments you need.  Please see our page Paying for Treatment to learn more.

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