What You Can Do
"The more informed I was, the better I felt about it. I felt I had some control." - CKD patient
Most chronic kidney disease (CKD) can't be cured. The good news is that if your doctor finds out that you have a kidney problem, there may be a number of ways to help slow down the disease, help you feel better, and help you make better medical decisions. What can you do?
Know Your Lab Tests
Learn the names of the lab tests your doctor orders and what the results mean. Kidney disease is often diagnosed, and always monitored, by measuring levels of substances in the blood or urine. Knowing—and tracking—your lab tests is an important way for you to be involved in your care. Normal lab test ranges vary slightly from one laboratory to another. When you get your results, be sure to ask what the laboratory's normal range is. Common lab test values can be found here.
Control Your Blood Pressure
Keep your blood pressure at the target level your doctor sets with:
- Weight loss
- A low-sodium diet
- Reducing stress
- Taking your blood pressure medication the right way
Ask Your Doctor About Certain Medications That May Help Treat Kidney Disease
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are a class of blood pressure medicines that can protect kidney function in some cases (generic names include ramipril, captopril, and enalapril). In some people, ACE inhibitors cause a cough, which stops when you stop taking the drug. Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) may be used along with or instead of ACE inhibitors. There may be drugs that treat the kidney problem YOU have, too. Fish oil has been found to help some types of kidney problem. Drugs that suppress the immune system may help some autoimmune causes of CKD.
Ask Your Doctor About Anemia
A shortage of red blood cells can start early in CKD. Anemia can cause you to feel tired and worn out. Ask your doctor about medications such as epoetin (EPO) and iron to treat anemia.
Eat a Healthy Diet
We literally are what we eat—we build our cells out of our food. So, if you eat mostly fast food and drink sugary sodas, you may be able to improve your kidney health by eating better foods. Studies have found that eating more fresh vegetables, fruit*, and low fat dairy and less saturated fat, starches, and sweets may help slow CKD.
*NOTE: Dried fruits (e.g., raisins, prunes, apricots, etc.) and some fresh ones (like papaya, mango, avocado, bananas, and oranges) have a lot of potassium. If your kidneys don't work well, this could be dangerous for you. Talk to a dietitian about what is safe for you to eat.
Ask Your Doctor About a Lower-Protein Diet
Some doctors believe a diet lower in some proteins can help slow kidney disease. Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian who specializes in treating those with chronic kidney disease. A dietitian can help you learn how to keep your kidneys healthy longer by eating the right foods. Don't limit your protein until you have talked about it with your doctor or dietitian.
Control Your Blood Sugar Levels
If you have diabetes, stay at a healthy weight, exercise, and take medications as prescribed to keep your blood glucose in the "normal" range. Tight control of blood sugar can help slow the progression of kidney disease. Your HbA1c levels, which measure your blood sugar control over a period of 3 months, should be less than 6.5%.
In people with CKD, smoking is linked to an increase in the amount of protein spilled in the urine. In smokers with diabetes, CKD may progress twice as fast. Scientists are not sure why this is the case, but if you have kidney disease and you smoke, quitting may help slow down the damage.
Avoid Certain Pain Medications
Some over-the-counter pain pills containing ibuprofen or naproxen, and even acetaminophen (e.g., Motrin®, Advil®, Aleve®, Tylenol®) can affect kidney function. This is especially true if you have kidney, heart, or liver disease or you take diuretics (water pills). Avoid using combinations of these pain pills and caffeine—both at once can further damage your kidneys.
With your doctor's okay, start an exercise program to control weight and keep your heart and blood vessels healthy and your muscles and joints in good working order. Although written for people on dialysis, Exercise: A Guide for People on Dialysis has useful information to help anyone with a chronic illness get more exercise.