News | Published March 14, 2017 | Written by Fahima Nasreen, MD, nephrology, Mount Nittany Physician Group

What to know about chronic kidney disease and its risk factors

Fahima Nasreen, MD, nephrology, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a medical condition when there is progressive and irreversible damage to the kidneys. It is a serious public health issue and a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States and around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 20 million U.S. citizens have CKD of varying levels of seriousness. Only 10 percent of patients with mild to moderate CKD, and less than 50 percent of patients with advanced kidney failure, are aware of their illness.

Factors that may increase your risk of CKD:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Being of African-American, Native American or Asian-American descent
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Low birth weight
  • Medications toxic to kidney such as NSAIDs and PPIs
  • Prior history of kidney disease and abnormal kidney structure
  • Male gender
  • Older age: risks increase after age 50 and are most common among those older than 70

What happens if you develop CKD?

CKD can affect almost every part of the body. Potential complications may include:

  • Fluid retention, which could lead to swelling in the arms and legs; high blood pressure; or fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • A sudden rise in potassium levels in the blood (hyperkalemia) which could impair the heart's ability to function and may be life threatening
  • Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease
  • Weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures
  • Anemia
  • Malnutrition
  • Depression
  • Decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction or reduced fertility
  • Damage to the central nervous system, which can cause difficulty concentrating, personality changes or seizures
  • Decreased immune response, which makes individuals more vulnerable to infection
  • Pericarditis, an inflammation of the saclike membrane that envelops the heart (pericardium)
  • Pregnancy complications that carry risks for the mother and the developing fetus
  • Irreversible damage to the kidneys (end-stage kidney disease) that eventually requires either dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival
  • Early death for cardiovascular disease and other causes

What can be done to reduce CKD?

CKD is a progressive disease with significant effects on the health and quality of life of an individual. Anyone can develop CKD, however, there are certain risk factors that put an individual at higher risk of developing CKD such as having high blood pressure and diabetes. Some of the risk factors such as age and family history are non-modifiable while others such as smoking and obesity can be controlled to reduce the chances of developing CKD.

Public awareness of the burden of CKD and its complications is of paramount importance in early detection and management of the modifiable risk factors that can eventually help reduce the development of CKD and/or slow the progression to advanced kidney failure. It can also help to reduce the CKD epidemic and its significant effect on individual patients, as well as, the tremendous financial burden on the health care system.