Chronic Kidney Disease: A Family Affair

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the permanent loss of kidney function. CKD may be the result of physical injury or a disease that damages the kidneys, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. When the kidneys are damaged, they do not remove wastes and extra water from the blood as well as they should.

CKD is a family affair because you may be at risk if you have a blood relative with kidney failure.

CKD is a silent condition. In the early stages, you will not notice any symptoms. CKD often develops so slowly that many people don't realize they're sick until the disease is advanced and they are rushed to the hospital for life-saving dialysis.

A Growing Problem
CKD is a growing problem in the United States. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people with kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplantation virtually doubled to 380,000. If this trend continues, the number of people with kidney failure will approach 700,000 by 2010. The annual cost of treating kidney failure in the United States has already topped $20 billion.

Kidney failure is only a part of the picture. Experts estimate that 20 million Americans have significantly reduced kidney function, and even a small loss of kidney function can double a person's risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Many of these people will experience heart attacks or strokes before they become aware of their kidney disease. So identifying and treating CKD early can help prevent heart problems as well as postpone kidney failure.

Who is at risk?

Risk factors are conditions that make you more likely to develop a disease. The leading risk factors for CKD are

Having diabetes increases your risk of developing CKD. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure. High blood pressure is the second leading cause.

CKD runs in families, so you may have an increased risk if your mother, father, sister, or brother has kidney failure.

Some racial groups are also at increased risk for CKD.

If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, or a close family member with kidney failure, you should get checked for kidney disease, especially if you're a member of one of the racial or ethnic groups at higher risk for CKD.

How can I find out if I have CKD?

Since early CKD has no symptoms, the only way to find out if you have it is through simple medical tests.

A 24-hour urine collection is no longer necessary. Small samples of urine and blood, which can easily be taken in the doctor's office, are all the new methods require.

Several organizations offer free screenings for kidney disease. You may be able to have your kidney function measured at a local health fair. The National Kidney Foundation's KEEP (Kidney Early Evaluation Program) initiative offers blood and urine testing, onsite consultation with a physician, and referral and followup services for people whose test results are outside the normal range. The American Kidney Fund's MIKE (Minority Intervention and Kidney Education) Program offers educational sessions and medical screenings. The American Association of Kidney Patients' Finding Your Strength program offers education about your kidneys, tests to expect, and ways to stay healthy with CKD. Contact information for these and other organizations appears in the For More Information section at the end of this fact sheet.

What can I do to slow down or avoid kidney failure?

Learning about reduced kidney function allows you to take steps to keep your kidneys healthy as long as possible. You can control many of the things that can make CKD worse and may lead to kidney failure.

What can I do to avoid the complications of CKD?

CKD can lead to many other health problems well before kidney failure occurs.

If you have CKD, you will need to have regular checkups to monitor blood levels of creatinine, urea nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, parathyroid hormone, hemoglobin, and cholesterol. If your blood tests show abnormal levels of any of these substances several times, your doctor will prescribe medicines. For example, if you have anemia indicated by low levels of hemoglobin on repeated tests, your doctor can prescribe a synthetic form of EPO (erythropoietin) to help your body make more red blood cells.

Work with your doctor to manage the health problems that CKD can cause. Taking charge of your health can make your kidneys last longer. You have the power to prevent kidney failure.

Points to Remember