Article

Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

red and blue kidneys
Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
November 6, 2021

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) means you have lasting damage to your kidneys that can get worse over time. If the damage is severe, your kidneys may stop working. This is called kidney failure and it means you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

CKD is when your kidneys are damaged and lose their ability to filter waste and fluid out of your blood. Waste can build up in your body and harm your health. Kidney failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is when your kidneys have stopped working well enough for you to survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Damage to your kidneys cannot be reversed. But if doctors find CKD early, there are ways you can keep the damage from getting worse, such as following a kidney-friendly eating plan, being active and taking certain medicines.

In the U.S., 37 million people have CKD. That is more than 1 in 7 adults.

What causes CKD?

The two most common causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes means that your blood sugar is too high, which can damage your kidneys. High blood pressure means that the force of blood in your blood vessels is too strong, which can damage your blood vessels and lead to CKD. 

There are other kidney problems that can lead to CKD, such as:

Who is more likely to get CKD

Anyone can get CKD, but some people have a higher chance, such as people who:

Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you have any of these risk factors for CKD.

What are the symptoms of CKD?

In the early stages of kidney disease, you may not have any symptoms. Over time, your kidneys do not work as well to filter waste and fluid out of your blood. In the later stages of kidney disease, you may notice symptoms, such as:

  • Itchy skin

  • Muscle cramps

  • Feeling weak and tired 

  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up

  • Feeling less hungry than normal 

  • Swelling of your legs, ankles and feet 

  • Urinating (peeing) more or less than normal 

  • Foamy, frothy or bubbly-looking urine (pee), which means there is protein in your urine

  • Trouble catching your breath 

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep 

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms. 

What other health problems can CKD cause?

Your kidneys help your whole body work properly. When you have CKD and your kidneys are not working as well as they should, it can cause other health problems, such as:

Stages of CKD

CKD is broken down into five stages based on the amount of damage to your kidneys and how well they still work. In stage 1 CKD, the damage to your kidneys is mild and you probably will not have any symptoms. In stage 5 CKD, your kidneys have stopped working (kidney failure).

Learn more about the stages of CKD

How will I know if I have CKD?

You may not have any symptoms of CKD until your kidneys are badly damaged. The only way to know how well your kidneys are working is to get tested. Talk to your doctor about these tests for CKD:

 

    How can I prevent CKD

    If you have  diabetes or high blood pressure, the best way to prevent CKD is to work with your doctor to control your blood sugar and blood pressure. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two most common causes of CKD. 

    Other ways to help protect your kidneys are to:

    How can I slow the damage to my kidneys?

    Damage to your kidneys cannot be reversed, but you can keep it from getting worse. By following your treatment plan and making healthy life changes, you can help keep your kidneys working for as long as possible. 

    Take these steps to slow the damage to your kidneys: 

    • Work with your doctor to manage diabetes and high blood pressure.
    • Take all of your prescription medicines as your doctor tells you.
    • Have visits with a kidney doctor (nephrologist) to check your blood levels and overall health.
    • Follow a kidney-friendly eating plan. A dietitian can help you make a plan that works for you.
    • Be active for 30 minutes most days of the week.
    • Drink less alcohol. The healthy guidelines for drinking alcohol are: 
      • For men: No more than two drinks per day 
      • For women: No more than one drink per day
    • Quit smoking or using tobacco.

    How do doctors treat CKD?

    Doctors can treat some of the symptoms and health problems CKD causes. For example, your treatment plan may include:

    • Certain medicines to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol 
    • Diuretics (water pills) to help your kidneys get rid of salt and water and lower swelling
    • Dialysis: A treatment that uses a machine to clean your blood when your kidneys are no longer able to.
    • Kidney transplant: A surgery to give you a healthy kidney from someone else's body. A kidney transplant may be an option for you when your kidneys have failed.