March 22, 2021
4 min. read

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): Treatment and Medications


Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is common among US adults. In fact, more than 1 in 7, or 15%, of US adults are estimated to have CKD, which is about 37 million people. In the United States, as many as 9 in 10 adults with CKD do not know they have it, while about 2 in 5 adults with severe CKD do not know they have it.

To gain a better understanding of what chronic kidney disease looks like, as well as prevention and treatment, read our latest blog below.

What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease, also called chronic kidney failure, describes the gradual loss of kidney function. Under normal conditions, your kidneys are responsible for filtering wastes and excess fluids from your blood, which is then excreted in your urine. However, in those with chronic kidney disease, your kidneys are no longer able to filter the blood the way they should. In advanced stages of CKD, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and wastes can build up in your body.

ckd stages

What Are the Five Stages of CKD?

There are five stages of CKD and different symptoms and treatments associated with each stage.

  • Stage 1 kidney disease: In stage 1, there’s very mild damage to the kidneys. The kidneys are still quite adaptable and can adjust to current circumstances, which allows them to keep performing at 90% or more capacity. At this stage there are typically no symptoms.
  • Stage 2 kidney disease: In stage 2 kidney disease, kidneys are functioning between 60-89% capacity. You might still be symptom-free, or experience nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, itching, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and weakness.
  • Stage 3 kidney disease: In stage 3 kidney disease, kidneys are functioning between 30-59% capacity. The kidneys are no longer filtering waste, toxins, and fluids as well as they should, and so these are starting to build up. While not everyone has symptoms as stage 3, you may experience back pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, persistent itching, sleep problems, swelling of the hands and feet, urinating more or less than usual, and weakness.
  • Stage 4 kidney disease: Those with stage 4 kidney disease have moderate-to-severe kidney damage. Your kidneys are now functioning between 15-29% capacity. Symptoms can include the following: Symptoms can include: back pain, chest pain, decreased mental sharpness, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle twitches or cramps, nausea and vomiting, persistent itching, shortness of breath, sleep problems, swelling of the hands and feet, urinating more or less than usual, and weakness.
  • Stage 5 kidney disease: In stage 5 kidney disease, your kidneys are working at a capacity lower than 15%, or you have kidney failure. When that happens, the buildup of waste and toxins becomes life-threatening. This is end-stage renal disease. Symptoms at this stage include: back and chest pain, breathing problems, decreased mental sharpness, fatigue, little to no appetite, muscle twitches or cramps, nausea or vomiting, persistent itching, trouble sleeping, severe weakness, swelling of the hands and feet, and urinating more or less than usual. At this stage, the risk of heart disease and stroke is also growing.

patient provider

Can Chronic Kidney Disease Be Treated?

Some types of kidney disease can be treated, depending on the underlying cause. However, most often chronic kidney disease has no cure.

Treatment usually involves controlling signs and symptoms, reducing complications, and slowing the progression of the disease. If your kidneys become severely damaged, you may need treatment for end-stage kidney disease.

Kidney disease

What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?

CKD occurs when a disease or condition impairs kidney function, causing kidney damage to worsen over several months or years.

Diseases and conditions that cause chronic kidney disease include:

  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the kidney’s filtering units
  • Interstitial nephritis, an inflammation of the kidney’s tubules and surrounding structures
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract, from conditions such as enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers
  • Vesicoureteral reflux, a condition that causes urine to back up into your kidneys
  • Recurrent kidney infection, also called pyelonephritis

kidney disease treatment

How Can I Prevent Chronic Kidney Disease?

There are a number of ways to reduce your risk of developing kidney disease:

  • Follow instructions on over-the-counter medications. When using non prescription pain relievers (such as Advil, Motrin IB, and Tylenol), do not take more than instructed. Taking more than an appropriate amount can lead to kidney damage, and should generally be avoided if you have kidney disease. Ask your provider whether these drugs are safe for you.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Physical activity can help prevent CKD if you’re at a healthy weight and if you need to lose weight. If you need to lose weight, talk with your provider about strategies for healthy weight loss. Often this involves increasing daily physical activity and reducing calories.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking can damage your kidneys and make existing kidney damage worse. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about strategies for quitting smoking. Support groups, counseling and medications are helpful quitting tools.
  • Manage medical conditions with your provider’s help. If you have diseases or conditions that increase your risk of kidney disease, work with your doctor to control them. Ask your doctor about tests to look for signs of kidney damage

Resources Center for Disease Control and Prevention Mayo Clinic Healthline

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