HCA Midwest Health - November 20, 2017

What is kidney disease? My mother has it, but doesn't have any symptoms.


Kidney Disease can often be “silent” – meaning there are no symptoms. And that’s a scary thing, especially to someone just starting to manage chronic kidney disease.

It’s important to keep in mind that your mom is already ahead of the game – she knows she has kidney disease and can take a variety of steps to protect her kidney health and lower her risk of kidney failure.

Regular testing will be an important part of managing your mom’s condition. A blood test called the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is used to check how well the kidneys are functioning so she’ll probably have these frequently. Her doctor may also suggest imaging tests to see the size of the kidneys, detect tumors or kidney stones and to view the urinary tract. And a biopsy can pinpoint the specific type of kidney disease and the extent of kidney damage. The doctor uses those test results to determine the best treatments.

It’s also important that people with kidney disease:

  • Manage other conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes, that can lead to kidney failure
  • Only take medications and supplements under the direction of a doctor—and to be especially careful with over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Limit time around potential toxins
  • Not abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs
  • Inform all healthcare providers that they have kidney disease, including doctors, pharmacists, dentists and testing technicians
  • Talk to their doctor before becoming pregnant

Understanding Your Risk for Kidney Disease

Your mom’s diagnosis is important for your health as well. Many of conditions that increase a person’s risk of kidney disease run in families. So take the time to discuss your risk with your doctor and encourage other family members to do the same. A simple urine test called the Albumin Creatinine Ratio (ACR) can detect kidney problems.

There are four major risk factors for kidney disease:

  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Age (60 and older)

There are other factors that increase your risk as well. Black Americans, Hispanics and Asians are at increased risk, as well as Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Alaskans. Overuse of alcohol and using illegal drugs can both damage your kidneys. So can the misuse of pain medications like aspirin, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Advil).

Signs & Symptoms of Kidney Disease

According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease and millions of others are at risk. Because it’s silent, many people don’t know they have kidney disease until it becomes advanced, leading to symptoms like:

  • Feeling tired or having less energy than usual
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle cramps or increased need to urinate, especially at night
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Puffy eyes, especially in the morning
  • Dry, itchy skin

Find a Nephrologist Near Me

For you and your mom, reducing your risk of kidney failure will involve a balance of being diligent with your health but not letting fear take over. Stress can wreak havoc on both body and mind. So follow your doctor’s recommendations, but don’t go overboard with more frequent testing or unnecessary medications.

A Registered Nurse is available 24/7* free of charge to answer questions or help you find a doctor that suits your needs. Just call 1-800-386-9355.

* Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. If you are having a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 or visit your nearest Emergency Room. To find out just how fast you’ll be seen, text ER to 23000.