As you age, your kidney health and your kidney function may start to decline. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering blood and removing waste from the body. In addition, they also help to regulate your blood pressure, make red blood cells, keep your bones healthy, and balance pH levels. Needless to say, your kidneys are essential for overall health.
Kidney disease, also known as chronic kidney disease or CKD, can occur at any stage in life but is more common in older adults. Your risk of developing kidney disease greatly increases after age 60. According to recent research from Johns Hopkins University, more than 50 percent of seniors over the age of 75 are believed to have kidney disease. Even more startling, approximately 90 percent of adults with kidney disease don’t even know they have it. So, what is chronic kidney disease, and who’s at risk?
What is Chronic Kidney Disease?
Chronic kidney disease, often referred to as kidney failure, is just that, the failure of your kidneys. It occurs when your kidneys experience some degree of damage and begin to lose their ability to filter blood as well as they should. This is often a gradual process and leads to excess fluid and waste remaining in the body, which often causes other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
There are five stages of kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease stages 1 and 2 are considered mild; however, it’s critical that at those stages, you make dietary and lifestyle changes to protect from further damage. Stage 3 is when a person’s kidneys are filtering the blood at between 30 to 60 percent of their normal capacity. Usually, in stage 3, the damage to your kidneys is irreversible. Treatment and lifestyle changes are used to prevent disease progression and from moving into stage 4 or stage 5, which is kidney failure.
People with stage 5 chronic kidney disease typically have less than 15 percent of their original kidney function. As a result, those suffering from stage 5 often require dialysis three or more times a week to clear their blood of toxins.
Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Unfortunately, the majority of individuals with kidney disease don’t experience symptoms until the disease has progressed to later stages. This is why it is vital to get screened regularly. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) urges everyone over the age of 60 to be screened for kidney disease. This can be done either through a urine or blood test.
As previously mentioned, it takes time for symptoms and signs to develop. The loss of kidney function causes a buildup of fluid and body waste. This can produce the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sleep problems
- Urinating more or less
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling of feet and ankles
- Dry, itchy skin
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
- Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
These symptoms are not specific to kidney disease and could signal a number of conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your provider.
Who is at Risk for Chronic Kidney Disease?
Chronic kidney disease occurs when a disease or condition affects kidney function, which in turn damages the kidneys. The two leading causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. This is because of the effect they have on blood vessels.
High blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels in the kidneys as well as nephrons, so they don’t work as well as they should. Nephrons are the tiny filters that make up the kidneys. High blood pressure, on the other hand, damages blood vessels by restricting blood flow. When your blood vessels are damaged or weakened, they cannot remove waste and extra fluid from your body like they’re supposed to.
About one out of three adults with diabetes has kidney disease, and about one in three seniors (over the age of 65) have diabetes. Furthermore, roughly 70 percent of seniors have high blood pressure.
In addition to diabetes and high blood pressure, you may be at a higher risk for chronic kidney disease if you:
You may be at a higher risk of chronic kidney failure if you:
- smoke cigarettes
- have obesity
- have heart disease
- have high cholesterol
- have a family history of kidney disease
- are over age 65
Is Kidney Disease Treatable?
There is no cure for kidney disease, but if caught in an early stage, kidney disease in older adults is treatable and manageable. The best course of action is to slow the progression of the disease by controlling risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
A complete review of medications will also need to be done to ensure you’re not taking medications that are damaging your kidneys. Together, you will work with your provider to devise a treatment plan that will include a healthy diet and regular exercise. These factors will work toward managing your kidney disease.
If attempts to control your kidney disease through diet, lifestyle changes, and medication fail, you might face end-stage kidney disease. For end-stage kidney disease in older adults, dialysis and kidney transplant are the two treatment options. Dialysis is a system for filtering waste products and excess fluids out of your blood.
Some older adults with kidney disease or failure live for many years. So it is certainly not a death sentence and shouldn’t be looked at as one.
If you’re at risk of developing kidney disease or if you’re experiencing any symptoms that could be related to your kidneys, contact your provider today. Your survival rate is dependent on prevention and maintenance.