It can be hard to make sense of kidney disease if it is your first time hearing of it—all the more when someone you know (or even you yourself) has been diagnosed with it.
In order to understand it, you should know first what the kidneys do.
In a nutshell, these two fist-sized organs act as filtration devices for our blood.
They are the filtering machine.
The kidneys process the fluids in our bodies. Every day they filter the blood for excess fluid and other components, like surplus minerals and vitamins or even toxins.
It may sound odd to lump surplus minerals and vitamins in with toxins, but once these things reach the “surplus” mark, they really do become toxins too.
The fact is, you can have too much of practically anything. Drinking too much water can literally kill you, so why not minerals and vitamins? Too much vitamin D is toxic, for example.
Keeping what's needed in your blood.
The kidneys stop toxic buildup when you consume a little too much of a particular nutrient. They keep the chemical levels in your blood balanced for normal bodily function.
They also have other functions, like producing active vitamin D and hormones, but their primary purpose is to filter waste from your body and release it as urine.
Now imagine for a moment that a person has magically lost his kidneys. If he goes about his usual routines, how long do you think he will last? Everything he puts in his mouth has the potential to kill him now, you see. He no longer has a filtration system for removing the waste from his system: it just keeps piling up in his blood until he succumbs to its toxicity.
Defining Kidney Disease and Its Stages
The hypothetical scenario above probably gave you a clue to the answer. Kidney disease or renal disease is essentially when the kidneys do not function as they should due to damage.
Note that we say when the kidneys do not function as they should, not when the kidneys do not function at all. This is so due to levels of inefficiency having kidney disease.
When the kidneys stop working (or decrease in efficiency enough to require actual replacement), then we call that kidney failure. It can also be called renal failure and end-stage kidney disease or ESKD.
In order to reach this point, your kidney efficiency is rated as being below 15% functionality. A normal kidney, by comparison, is usually working at above 60% efficiency.
This is the worst form of kidney disease, obviously, because the treatments for it are the most drastic. Kidney transplants become necessary at this point.
There are less grave forms of kidney inefficiency—and they are also counted as kidney disease.
For example, the ailment people most often refer to when speaking of kidney disease, Chronic Kidney Disease or CKD, has as many as 5 stages of gravity.
The higher the stage, the worse the case. So a Stage 1 CKD patient will require lighter treatments than a Stage 5 CKD patient. And even Stage 5 patients do not always progress to outright organ failure.
Chronic Kidney Disease is the most commonly referenced form of kidney disease. It refers to the gradual and progressive deterioration of kidney function. People with later stages of it usually have to go through dialysis, but there are many people with CKD who manage to hold their conditions in stasis for the entirety of their lives.
This requires careful health management, of course, but the effort is far from Herculean at the earlier stages of the disease.
To compare early CKD to normal kidney function, remember that we mentioned normal as being above 60% efficiency. Stage 1 CKD, by contrast, is usually still above 50%.
The Big Problem With Kidney Disease
The big issue with kidney disease is actually its detection. It happens to be one of those ailments where symptoms present far, far later than the actual onset of the disease.
As such, by the time you mark the usual signs of kidney issues, your disease will have had time to work significant damage on your filtration organs.
The accepted wisdom is that most of the damage on kidneys is irreversible. However, there have been cases where people noted apparent improvements in renal health following certain health regimes prescribed by doctors or experts in the field. Others have noted significant cessation of deterioration following certain health regimes too.
- Of note is that some regimes have even managed to produce measurable results demonstrating improvement in several subjects. The Kidney Disease Solution, a naturopathic program designed for kidney disease patients, has been associated with several dramatic kidney efficiency rating jumps and regressions from Stage 5 to Stage 4 CKD, for instance.
Nothing still beats early detection, however. The earlier one detects this ailment, the better the chances of keeping it at a near-negligible level. As mentioned above, though, early detection can be difficult unless you are specifically looking for it. Then again, it might be wise for some people to adopt such an attitude where kidney disease is concerned.
- This is because there are some for whom kidney disease is likelier than the rest of the population. Certain risk factors come into play. People with hypertension, for example, are more likely to get kidney disease. Those with cardiovascular issues are also more likely to have it. Genetics play a part as well in that if your family members have it, you are more likely to get it too. Diabetics have increased risk for it, and those of South Asian and black ethnicity are also statistically more likely to get it. Older people are more likely to have it. Finally, it happens to be slightly more common in women than men (1 in 5 to 1 in 4) for older age groups.
If you have two of these risk factors, it might be wise to get tested yearly for kidney disease. At least you would have the peace of mind of knowing you are covering your bases where this often silent-until-the-last ailment is concerned.