Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term condition where the kidneys don’t work as well as they should.
It’s a common condition often associated with getting older. Anyone can get it, although it’s more common in black people and people of south Asian origin.
CKD can get gradually worse over time and eventually the kidneys may stop working altogether, but this is uncommon. Many people with kidney disease are able to live long, largely normal lives.
Symptoms of CKD
There are usually no symptoms of kidney disease in the early stages. It may only be picked up if blood or urine tests carried out for another reason detect a possible problem with your kidneys.
When it reaches a more advanced stage, symptoms can include:
See your GP if you have persistent or worrying symptoms that you think could be caused by kidney disease.
Read more about the symptoms of CKD.
Causes of CKD
Kidney disease is usually caused by other conditions that put a strain on the kidneys. Often it’s the result of a combination of different problems.
CKD can be caused by:
- high blood pressure – over time, this can put strain on the small blood vessels in the kidneys and stop the kidneys working properly
- diabetes – too much glucose in your blood can damage the tiny filters in the kidneys
- high cholesterol – this can cause a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels supplying your kidneys, which can make it harder for them to work properly
- kidney infections
- glomerulonephritis – kidney inflammation
- polycystic kidney disease – an inherited condition where growths called cysts develop in the kidneys
- blockages in the flow of urine – for example, from recurrent kidney stones or an enlarged prostate
- long-term, regular use of certain medicines – such as lithium and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
You can help prevent CKD by making healthy lifestyle changes and ensuring any underlying conditions you have are well controlled.
Tests for CKD
CKD can be diagnosed using blood and urine tests. These tests are used to look for high levels of certain substances in your blood and urine that are signs your kidneys aren’t working properly.
If you’re at a high risk of developing kidney disease – for example, you have one of the conditions mentioned above – you may be advised to have regular tests to check for CKD so it’s picked up at an early stage.
The results of your blood and urine tests can be used to tell the stage of your kidney disease. This is a number that reflects how severe the damage to your kidneys is, with a higher number indicating more serious CKD.
Read more about how CKD is diagnosed.
Treatments for CKD
There’s no cure for CKD, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms and stop it getting worse.
Your treatment will depend on how severe your kidney disease is.
The main treatments are:
- lifestyle changes to ensure you remain as healthy as possible
- medication to control associated problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- dialysis – treatment to replicate some of the kidney’s functions; this may be necessary in advanced CKD
- kidney transplant – this may also be necessary in advanced CKD
You’ll also be advised to have regular check-ups to monitor your condition.
Outlook for CKD
CKD can range from a mild condition with no or few symptoms, to a very serious condition where the kidneys stop working, sometimes called kidney failure.
Most people with CKD will be able to control their condition with medication and regular check-ups. CKD only progresses to kidney failure in around 1 in 50 people with the condition.
But if you have CKD, even if it’s mild, you’re at an increased risk of developing other serious problems, such as cardiovascular disease. This is a group of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, which includes heart attacks and strokes.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death in people with kidney disease, although healthy lifestyle changes and medication can help reduce your risk of developing it.