What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is a serious condition. Your doctor can help you with symptoms and improve your quality of life. You may even be able to stop CKD from getting worse.

What is chronic kidney disease?

Your kidneys get rid of waste and excess fluid from your blood. Inside the kidneys, blood flows through many tiny filters. They remove what is left over after your body turns food and drink into energy.

Each year, millions of Americans get CKD. They might not have symptoms at first. As it gets worse, symptoms appear and become harder to manage. It can cause kidney failure, requiring dialysis or a transplant.

Checking for CKD

Doctors look for CKD with blood or urine tests.

Blood tests for CKD

One blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This is how well your kidneys filter your blood in a minute. A normal level is above 90 milliliters per minute (90 ml/min).

Your doctor may check your GFR over several months. If it is too low for 3 months or more, you may have CKD.

Urine tests for CKD

When your kidneys are damaged, protein builds up in the urine. This is an early sign of kidney damage. It means that your kidneys are not filtering your blood well.

Your doctor may check for the protein with a urine sample. High levels of protein may mean you have CKD.

CKD stages

Kidney disease occurs in stages, from stage 1 to stage 5. A higher number indicates more damage.

Stage 1

In stage 1, you might not know you have CKD. Your GFR may be normal, but you may have other signs of kidney disease. These might include protein in your urine, fatigue, or swelling in your legs and feet.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is a little more advanced. Your kidneys don’t work as well as they should. Your doctor can check this by looking at your GFR. In stage 2, GFR is usually between 60 and 90 ml/min.

You might not have any symptoms of kidney disease, but kidney damage may happen over time. Your doctor may advise lifestyle changes and other treatments to slow down the damage.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is divided into two phases. In stage 3a, your kidneys are less able to filter your blood. Your GFR is usually between 45 and 59 ml/min. This means mild to moderate loss of kidney function. Treatment is necessary to slow down the damage.

Stage 3b is moderate to severe loss of kidney function. During this phase, your GFR is between 30 and 44 ml/min. Treatment to slow it down continues.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is very serious. It means the kidneys no longer function normally. Treatment is needed to filter the blood. Doctors usually suggest dialysis or transplants.

Stage 5

At stage 5, the kidneys don’t work at all. Dialysis is needed to keep patients alive. But many continue to live a full life. Dialysis may be needed until another treatment, like a transplant, can take place.

Some people choose not to have dialysis or get a transplant. Instead, they will get care and support to help them have the best quality of life for as long as possible.