Norman Regional Health System

Monday, December 5, 2022

The kidneys are complex organs that play a crucial role in general health and well-being. They help rid our bodies of waste, balance our fluid levels and blood pressure, and regulate red blood cell production. They even assist in fortifying our bones by producing the active form of vitamin D.

It’s no wonder that when something is off with our kidneys, we tend to feel it all over. According to the National Kidney Foundation, chronic kidney disease affects an estimated 37 million people, and is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. Kendral Knight, MD, a nephrology specialist at Norman Regional’s Nephrology Associates, helps answer some common questions surrounding kidney disease.

What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease doesn’t really explain much about what specifically has gone wrong with the kidneys. Is it a specific condition or is it just a general condition? The answer is that chronic kidney disease refers to a decrease in kidney function for three months or longer.

“Another thing that can classify someone as having chronic kidney disease is anatomical abnormalities,” said Dr. Knight. “These can include being born with one kidney, having a ‘horseshoe kidney’, physical damage to the kidney, or if there is protein or blood in the urine. Chronic kidney disease can be used to define many different specific conditions relating to the kidneys.”

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease is often characterized as a “silent condition”. Meaning that for many, it can be largely asymptomatic, especially in early stages. Signs and symptoms of kidney disease can worsen over time and lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in urine volume/production, and swelling of the feet and ankles.

“Usually the more severe symptoms develop during the later stages of kidney disease, so an early diagnosis and treatment is crucial,” said Dr. Knight. “It’s one of those conditions that can be very difficult to catch early on unless you are getting regular bloodwork done. Conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes are similar in this way.”

What are the causes of chronic kidney disease? 

The biggest risk factors for developing chronic kidney disease are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Old age

“Along with the risk factors mentioned, certain medications can increase the likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease as well,” said Dr. Knight. “NSAIDs are the most common over-the-counter medicines that can lead to a higher risk of chronic kidney disease. Medications like Aleve, Ibuprofen, Advil, etc…”

How can chronic kidney disease be prevented?

The things that cause the kidneys to decrease in function in the first place are generally what need to be avoided to prevent chronic kidney disease. “For example in diabetics, I tell them that what is good for their diabetes is good for their kidneys,” said Dr. Knight. “The same is true for high blood pressure. If a patient is exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and salt intake, these things will not only positively impact their blood pressure, but their kidneys as well.”

You can also reduce your risk of chronic kidney disease by staying away from NSAIDs as much as possible and smoking cessation. The truth is that taking care of your overall health generally is good for the kidneys as well. The kidneys are usually one of the last things to go after patients firstly develop high blood pressure or diabetes.

What are the treatment options for chronic kidney disease?

Generally, treatment of chronic kidney disease focuses on using medications to manage other illnesses that are related to the chronic kidney disease like high blood pressure and diabetes. For example, ACE inhibitors can be used by those who are experiencing high blood pressure and they in turn can improve the health of the kidneys.

In the later stages of kidney disease, when kidney function has dropped below 10-15 percent, dialysis and transplants become the primary treatment options. Dialysis is a process that calls for mechanical or chemical filtering of waste and fluids in the body when the kidneys no longer are able.

Ultimately, the most important thing that we can do to protect ourselves against chronic kidney disease is to prioritize our overall health. This includes eating a healthy diet, living an active lifestyle and having regular, routine visits with a primary care provider. A primary care provider can notice the warning signs of kidney disease and reduce the likelihood of catching it once it’s already too late.

To learn more about nephrology services at Norman Regional, you can call Nephrology Associates at 405-515-0500 or visit the nephrology service page.