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Introduction to Chronic Kidney Disease

About 8.2 million Americans are at risk for moderate to severe chronic kidney disease (CKD) or kidney failure. Have you been told that you have kidney problems, or that lab tests show your kidney function is not normal? Does diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of kidney problems put you at high risk for kidney disease? Do you have symptoms that worry you? If so, read on to learn more.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is slow, long-term damage to the kidneys. CKD may have symptoms—or it may not. In some cases, CKD will progress over time to kidney failure. If the kidneys do fail, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to support life. Don't panic! People can live for years and even decades kidney transplants and/or one of many types of dialysis.

There are 5 stages of CKD. Results from a blood test for creatinine (a waste product removed by healthy kidneys) is plugged into a formula for eGFR, or estimated glomerular filtration rate, which is a measure of how well your kidneys are working. You can think of it as your percent kidney function: 100% is perfect function. As we age, our function tends to drop a bit. Here are the stages of CKD:

  • Stage 1 - some kidney damage and eGFR is ≥90
  • Stage 2 - eGFR is 60–89
  • Stage 3 - eGFR is 30–59
  • Stage 4 - eGFR is 15–29
  • Stage 5 - eGFR is less than 15 (Read our article on When to Start Dialysis over at Home Dialysis Central)

You can find online eGFR calculators if you know your serum creatinine. Just type eGFR into Google, or visit the Kidney Trust to find your eGFR.

Are you worried about your kidneys? We get lots of phone calls from people who fear they have kidney disease. We tell them it is very unlikely that their symptoms are caused by their kidneys IF they don't have:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • A family history of kidney disease
  • Protein in their urine

But, there is only one way to know for sure: see a doctor. Ask to have your blood pressure, urine, and serum creatinine tested.

Learn More about Chronic Kidney Disease

There are a number of risk factors for CKD, and symptoms to be sure to tell your doctor about. We'll answer some common questions and tell you what you can do to feel your best—and help prevent or slow CKD.

When you learn about CKD, you are taking the first step toward an active role in your healthcare. Research suggests that people who are active partners in their care are more likely to live long and well.

Other people with CKD say that these three things helped them to do well—and they can help you, too:

  1. Attitude - Believe that you can live a good life with kidney disease.
  2. Answers - Become your own expert so you can stay as healthy as possible.
  3. Action - Agree on a plan for your health with your doctor, and follow that plan closely.

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