Kidney damage, kidney disease, and kidney failure – these three terms are almost similar to each other, but only at the point that it affects the body’s ability in cleaning blood, help control blood pressure and filtering out the extra water from the blood.
Humans are born with two kidneys. They are on both sides of the spine right above the waist. When the kidneys get damaged, the fluid and waste products can build in the body. They can cause swelling in the ankles, weakness, vomiting, shortness of breath and vomiting. When they are not treated, the damage to the kidneys can get worse, and they will eventually stop operating properly. It shouldn’t come to that stage, and it can be quite serious as it is life threatening.
What kidneys do
When your kidneys are 100 percent healthy:
- They remove the waste from the blood after the digestion process, exposure to medications or chemicals and muscle activity
- Keep the balance of minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, and sodium in the blood. It also balances water content, too.
- It produces renin, which is used by the body to help manage and maintain blood pressure
- Creates the chemical erythropoietin, which tells the body to create red blood cells
- It makes an active vitamin D, which is necessary for bone health and many other things
Acute kidney conditions
When the kidneys stop working suddenly, the doctors refer to it as either acute renal failure or acute kidney injury. Its main causes are:
- Urine that is backed up in your kidneys
- Direct damage to both kidneys
- Not enough flow of blood to your kidneys
Such things can happen when:
- Your body is dehydrated, and the muscle tissue starts breaking down, which sends too much protein into the bloodstream
- Went through a traumatic injury that has blood loss, like in a car wreck
- Get into shock because of a severe infection like sepsis
- Around certain toxins or take certain drugs
- Have enlarged prostate in which it blocks the urine flow
- Have complications from pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia
Autoimmune diseases can also trigger the acute kidney injury.
Chronic kidney problems
When the kidneys do not work well for over three months, it is called the chronic kidney disease by doctors. The early stages of chronic kidney disease do not have any symptoms at all, but it is the best time for the kidneys to get treated since they are still experiencing the first stages.
Hypertension and diabetes types 1 and 2 are the 2 of the common triggers of the chronic kidney problem. If your blood sugar levels are constantly high, it can also damage the kidneys, too. Hypertension leaves a tear on the blood vessels, which also passes through the kidney and may damage it.
Other conditions that trigger kidney problems include:
- Viral illnesses that have been active in the body for a very long time such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS
- Immune system problems
- Pyelonephritis, which is a UTI within the kidney, may result in scarring when the infection starts to heal. It can develop into kidney damage when this keeps on happening.
- Polycystic kidney disease, a genetic kind condition wherein the fluid-filled sacs are formed in the kidneys
- Inflammation in the in the glomeruli or tiny filters within the kidneys. It usually happens after the strep infection.
Other factors that affect the kidney’s normal function can also be traced back to birth, the ones that block out the urinary tract or that which affects the kidneys. One of them is where it affects the valve-like area between the urethra and the bladder. The urologist is the one that can repair such problems through surgery, which can only be found when the baby is still inside the womb.
Lead poisoning, one of the things that your body get through toxins and drugs and the long term use of some medications like NSAIDs like naproxen and ibuprofen can bring permanent damage to the kidneys. It also includes those IV street drugs as well. Those who are certain types of chemicals can also trigger kidney damage.
Causes of Kidney Failure
Kidney failure is also referred to as ESRD or end-stage renal disease, which is the final stage of the chronic kidney disease. When the kidneys fail, it has already stopped working well for the body to survive without kidney transplant or dialysis.
Most kidney failure cases are caused by already existing health problems that may have already done a lot of harm to the kidneys through a very long time. When the kidneys get damaged, it is expected that it will not work well as they should be. If the damage continues, it will get worse, and the kidneys will have a difficult time doing their job. Thus you get chronic kidney disease. It is why kidney failure is considered the final stage.
One of the most common causes for ESRD is diabetes, followed by hypertension. It is the same causes as mentioned above in the chronic kidney disease.
CKD or chronic kidney disease mostly gets worse a little at a time and the symptoms will only appear up to the point when the kidneys are already badly damaged. In the last few stages of CKD, one that is leading to kidney failure, you will notice symptoms that are caused by the extra fluid or waste that are already building up within the body.
Here are a few of the symptoms you will probably experience from CKD:
- Muscle cramps
- Not feeling hungry
- Vomiting and nausea
- Swelling in the ankles and feet
- Not enough or too much urine
- Trouble sleeping
- Have difficulty catching up your breath
When the kidneys stop working all of a sudden, you will notice one or more of these symptoms:
- Back pain
- Abdominal pain
When you have more than one of these symptoms, it may be a sign that your kidney is in a serious state. When you notice any of these, you need to contact a doctor right away.
Is there pain with kidney failure?
Kidney failure doesn’t cause any pain. The consequences of it may give you discomfort or pain in different areas of the body.
When your kidneys are functioning normally, it filters the amyloid from the blood stream. In a kidney failure case, the amyloid proteins rise in the blood, and it can separate then clump together, which forms the amyloid deposits in different organs and tissues in the body, which also includes tendons and joints. The results are the following symptoms:
- Joint stiffness
Most of the time, the patient witnesses another medical condition. The kidney failure diagnosis usually comes out as a consequence of the patient’s injury or disease. Patients that are experiencing chronic kidney disease because of hypertension, diabetes or any other medical condition, the medical care professionals that oversee the patient’s health will likely monitor the kidney function as a part of the long term routine to take care of the patient.
Kidney failure diagnosis can also be confirmed through various blood tests such as creatinine, GFR, and BUN. It measures the buildup of the waste products in the blood.
Urinalysis, which is a urine test, may also be ordered by your doctor to measure the content of the urine, like protein. Other things that doctors want to see are the abnormal cells and the concentration of the electrolytes.
Other tests that will be used to diagnose which type of kidney failure the patient has included:
- Kidney biopsy
- Abdominal ultrasound
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Abuse with substance can affect any part of the body, not only the mind and the will of the person. Most people think that drug abuse can only affect the person’s will and their mentality, when in fact too much of the illegal drugs can bring serious damage to the kidneys. When the drugs are absorbed into the body, the kidneys will do their job – by cleaning them. Since kidneys filter out these drugs, the kidneys are also exposed to the ill effects brought by drugs. The same can be said when a person drinks too much alcohol. It doesn’t matter whether it is binge drinking or not.
A lot of severe complications can happen when the kidneys are continually exposed to alcohol and drugs. The effects dealt by drug abuse are life threatening. People should keep in mind that the kidneys are not only there just to keep out waste – they also create hormones that are vital to the function of the other organs of the body.
The number one treatment with kidney failure or kidney diseases for that matter is prevention. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension are very damaging. A lifetime worth of diligence is very important to keep the blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the normal range.
However, when the disease has already struck the body, a particular set of treatments are prescribed by the doctor. The goal is still prevention, but this time it has to prevent the damage to the kidneys so that they can still function close to its optimal operation. When they are ignored, the progress will lead to kidney failure. Since kidney failure is mostly a consequence of other health issues of the body, when these are addressed aggressively, the function of the kidneys can still be preserved, although most of the time it is not improved.
The doctor will slowly work on controlling the cause of the kidney problem. The treatment options vary depending on the case. However, kidney damage can still get worse even when its underlying condition is already controlled. The patient is expected to cooperate with the doctor to keep the kidneys functioning better.
When it comes to treating the complications, the doctor will usually do the following:
- Managing high blood pressure – people that are diagnosed with kidney problems may experience a worsening of hypertension or high blood pressure. The doctor may recommend a maintenance of medication designed to lower blood pressure. The common one is the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or the angiotensin II receptor blockers. Medications designed to manage high blood pressure can decrease the kidney function and even change the electrolyte levels, so there is a need for a frequent blood test to monitor the condition. The doctor will highly likely recommend a low-salt diet and a water pill.
- Lowering cholesterol levels – doctors may also recommend the statins medication, which lowers the cholesterol levels. People diagnosed with chronic kidney disease sometimes experience high cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart problems.
- Relieve swelling – those with CKD may retain fluids, which can lead to swelling in the legs. It also tends to increase blood pressure. Medications like the diuretics can aid in maintaining the fluids in the body.
- Treating anemia – there are certain situations wherein the doctor will recommend giving you supplements with the erythropoietin hormone, often added with iron. These supplements help the production of red blood cells, which relieves the weakness and fatigue linked with anemia.
- Protecting the bones – the doctor may even prescribe vitamin D and calcium supplements to avoid making your bones weak and lower the risk of getting a fracture. Another medication may be prescribed to you, like the phosphate binder, to lower the phosphate levels in the blood and at the same time to protect the blood vessels against damage by calcification or calcium deposits.
Doctors will always tell their patients diagnosed with kidney failure to change their diet. It is an important factor to commit to since it is the kidney that will be affected by it. Doctors will probably tell you what foods to avoid, but it is best that you hire the expertise of a dietician so that you will know exactly the amount of food that you should take and how much you should avoid certain foods.
In the case of kidney problems, the kidneys have problems with removing excess salt, potassium or water from the blood, so foods that have high potassium and salt content may have to be reduced.