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Canadian Med Center

Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease

Friday 8 March 2024
Chronic Kidney Disease
7 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)?

II. Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease

III. Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

IV. Chronic Kidney Disease Diagnosis

V. Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease

VI. Conclusion

Many people live with chronic kidney disease without realizing it. This condition develops slowly over time, often showing no signs or symptoms in its early stages. Because of this stealthy progression, an estimated one in nine Americans have chronic kidney disease that remains undiagnosed. [1]

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at chronic kidney disease. We'll discuss what it is, common symptoms to watch out for, what causes it to develop, how it is diagnosed, and prevention techniques to help protect your kidneys. 

What is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)?

Your kidneys are two fist-sized organs located near your lower back that play a vital role in your health. Inside each kidney are around a million tiny structures called nephrons that act as mini-filtering units. [1] Every 30 minutes, these nephrons filter blood to remove excess water, wastes, and toxins from your body. The filtered blood recirculates while the wastes are passed out of your body as urine. [2]

In addition to their filtering duties, your kidneys also:

  • Release hormones that regulate blood pressure and bone strength
  • Stimulate red blood cell production to prevent anemia [2]

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) refers to conditions that damage the kidneys over time, causing a gradual loss of function. When this happens, wastes can build up in the blood instead of being eliminated through urine, leading to health complications like heart disease or stroke. [2]

Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease has varying degrees of severity as it typically worsens over time. However, the progression can be slowed with proper treatment. If left untreated, CKD can lead to kidney failure and cardiovascular problems. Understanding the stages of CKD helps monitor its advancement. [3]

CKD is categorized into five stages, which are determined by the eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) test results. This test measures how efficiently your kidneys filter waste and excess fluid from your blood. The eGFR is an estimated number based on age, sex, and body type. [3]

As the stages of CKD increase, the disease worsens, and kidney function decreases.

  • Stage 1 CKD (eGFR of 90 or greater) means your kidneys have mild damage but are still functioning well. You may have no symptoms, though protein in the urine or other signs of kidney damage may be present.
  • Stage 2 CKD (eGFR between 60 and 89) shows mild kidney damage, though kidney function remains largely normal. Again, there may be no symptoms, but protein in the urine or physical kidney damage can occur. 
  • Stage 3 CKD (eGFR between 30 and 59) means moderate damage and reduced kidney function. Waste builds up in the body, potentially causing issues like high blood pressure or bone disease. Symptoms such as fatigue, swelling, and weakness may emerge. 
  • Stage 4 CKD (eGFR between 15 and 29) is moderate to severe, and waste accumulates in the body. This leads to problems such as high blood pressure, bone disease, and heart disease. Swelling, pain, and other symptoms are likely. 
  • Stage 5 CKD (eGFR less than 15) signifies severe kidney damage. At this point, your kidneys are close to failure or have already failed. Because your kidneys can no longer filter waste from your blood, waste products accumulate in your body, leading to severe illness and other health issues. When kidney failure occurs, treatment options to survive include dialysis or a kidney transplant.  [3]

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease

A nurse taking a patient’s blood pressure

The two leading causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. When either condition is left untreated or poorly controlled, it can inflict damage on the kidneys that worsens over time. [4]

  • Diabetes is one of the leading causes of chronic kidney disease. When blood sugar levels are too high for too long, it can damage the tiny filters inside the kidneys. Over many years, this filtering system can become so damaged that the kidneys can no longer properly remove wastes and excess fluids from the blood. An early sign of kidney damage is the presence of the protein albumin in the urine, which healthy kidneys should not allow to pass from the blood into the urine.
  • High blood pressure is the second leading cause of chronic kidney disease. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can injure the blood vessels in the kidneys, impairing their ability to work properly. Damaged kidney blood vessels lead to reduced kidney function and an impaired ability to remove wastes and excess fluid from the body. This fluid buildup can further increase blood pressure, creating a vicious cycle. [4]

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a prevalent health concern, with one in three American adults at high risk of developing this condition. However, detecting and treating CKD promptly can be challenging as the signs and symptoms are often absent in the early stages. Unfortunately, symptoms tend to manifest only when the disease has progressed significantly, leading to an alarming statistic - one in nine Americans have kidney disease and are not aware of it. [1]

If symptoms do happen in the early stages, they may include:

  • Foamy urine
  • Urinating more or less frequently than usual
  • Itchy or dry skin
  • Feeling tired
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss [5]

In more advanced stages of chronic kidney disease, additional symptoms may develop:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Numbness or swelling in your arms, legs, ankles, or feet
  • Achy muscles or cramping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Breath smells “fishy” [5]

Chronic Kidney Disease Diagnosis

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) often starts silently, without symptoms. That's why testing is crucial to know how well your kidneys are working. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for kidney disease if you have any of the following risk factors: [6]

Catching CKD early allows you to start treatment right away to help protect your kidneys. There are two simple tests your doctor can use to check for kidney disease:

  • Blood test for glomerular filtration rate (GFR): This measures how efficiently your kidneys filter waste from your blood. A low GFR indicates your kidneys aren't working as well as they should be. While you can't increase your GFR, you can take steps to keep it from declining further.
  • Urine test for albumin: Albumin is a protein normally found in your blood, not urine. When your kidneys are damaged, albumin leaks into the urine. [6]

Keeping track of your test results over time is essential. If your GFR remains stable and the amount of albumin in your urine either stays the same or decreases, it indicates that your treatments are effectively managing your condition. [6]

Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease

A man exercising at the gym

Chronic kidney disease is a serious condition that can significantly impact overall health. If you are at a higher risk of developing this condition, taking proactive steps to protect your kidney function is crucial.

The good news is that making some simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in supporting kidney health.

  • Keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg, or as recommended by your healthcare provider. High blood pressure can strain your kidneys, leading to potential damage over time.
  • If you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar levels within the target range is important. Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to kidney damage, so managing your blood sugar effectively is critical.
  • Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine. Exercise can help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of kidney complications.
  • Maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise. Being overweight can increase your risk of developing kidney disease, so focusing on weight management is essential.
  • If you are at risk for chronic kidney disease, make sure to undergo regular screenings to monitor your kidney function. Early detection can help prevent the progression of the disease.
  • Consult with a dietitian to create a kidney-friendly diet plan tailored to your needs. A well-balanced diet is crucial for supporting kidney health and function.
  • Adhere to your prescribed medications as instructed by your healthcare provider. Medications play a vital role in managing conditions that can affect kidney health, so it is important to take them as recommended.
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit. Smoking can exacerbate kidney disease and interfere with the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. [2]


Chronic kidney disease is a serious yet manageable condition if detected and managed early. Understanding its causes and risk factors is key to prevention and maintaining kidney health. Recognizing symptoms and getting routine check-ups, especially for at-risk individuals, enables early diagnosis and treatment.

To learn more about this condition, visit our dedicated chronic kidney disease blog.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.