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What Is Kidney Disease and How Is It Typically Treated?

Chronic kidney disease occurs when our blood is no longer filtered correctly.

Key points

  • Some 90 percent of the 37 million Americans with chronic kidney disease are not aware that they have it.
  • Certain conditions can increase your risk, including diabetes, high blood pressure or hypertension, and heart disease.
  • If you have been diagnosed with this disease, it's crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions and take all prescribed medications.
Cottonbro/Pexels
Source: Cottonbro/Pexels

Although kidney disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, it is estimated that 90 percent[i] of the 37 million Americans with chronic kidney disease are not aware that they have it, even those with severe cases,[ii] as the disease can progress undetected until it is in advanced stages.

This is because the kidneys are such a powerful organ that they have the ability to continue to function even when damaged; this is also why we can have one of our kidneys removed and continue, although with greater precautions, to live healthy lives.

However, because kidneys are not regenerative organs, most damage cannot be reversed. While the progression of the disease can be slowed, kidney function will decrease over time, eventually leading to end-stage renal disease, at which point the patient will need either dialysis or a kidney transplant.

That being said, the progression of the disease can be significantly slowed, especially when the patient is introduced early to an integrative health approach. This is a combination of the best that science and self-care have to offer.

Integrative health includes evidence-based conventional medical care as well as complementary medicine and lifestyle changes. Together, these can ease chronic diseases by unlocking the body’s natural ability to heal.

This is a two-part series on kidney disease and how integrative health can ease your symptoms if you are one of the 37 million people suffering from this chronic condition.

What is chronic kidney disease?

Although we often forget about them, kidneys are a vital part of maintaining our health. They are responsible for filtering waste and excess water from the blood—which becomes urine. They also make the hormones that regulate blood pressure, produce red blood cells, and keep our bones strong and healthy. They are, thus, essential for a healthy body.

Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys have been damaged to such an extent that they can no longer filter our blood correctly. This can cause, among other things, waste to build up in our bodies, which can damage other organs.

There are five stages of chronic kidney disease, ranging from kidneys with a normal amount of damage to end-stage renal disease, which can prove fatal if it is not quickly treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Certain diseases and chronic conditions can increase your risk for chronic kidney disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure or hypertension, and heart disease. There is also a greater risk if there is a family history of the disease. Men and women are relatively equal in their risk for developing the condition, which most frequently develops in people older than 45.[iii]

If you see yourself reflected in any of these at-risk groups, it is crucial that your provider monitors your kidney function by regularly requesting either blood tests or urine tests. Blood tests measure the amount of creatinine, which is a waste product produced by muscles, while the urine test checks the protein level.

The disease can progress quickly, especially if you are diabetic or have high blood pressure; it is important to be proactive if you think you may fall into any of these categories.

How is chronic kidney disease typically treated?

Conventional medicine takes a pretty uniform approach to treating chronic kidney disease. Below are some of the usual methods for easing the condition.

Medication: People suffering from chronic kidney disease are often prescribed blood pressure medications, even if they do not have high blood pressure, because they can slow the disease’s progression by changing the rate of blood flow to the kidneys.

Blood pressure medication may complement cholesterol medications, as sufferers of chronic kidney disease are more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack or stroke. Your regiment may also include diuretics to reduce the amount of water that your body retains or medications to address anemia, as the disease may raise your red blood cell count.

If you have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, it is crucial that you follow your doctor’s instructions and take all medication as prescribed, including supplements for B12 or folic acid. Do not take anything additional, including over-the-counter medications, without first consulting with your provider.

If you have concerns, connect with your doctor immediately. You should also be prepared for your dosage to fluctuate as your disease progresses.

Work with a nutritionist: A well-balanced diet is crucial to maintaining your kidney function and slowing the progress of the disease. To this end, it is important that you work with a nutritionist or dietician to ensure that you develop meal plans that will help you meet the goals set by your physician, such as decreasing your sodium intake.

Incorporate physical activity and plenty of sleep into your routine: 30 minutes of movement a day and seven to eight hours of sleep a night can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, and achieve your blood glucose and pressure goals—all of which are essential to keeping your kidneys functioning at their very best.

Don’t smoke: Smoking will only cause greater damage to your kidneys and, thus, increase the disease’s progression.

Manage your stress and depression: Work with a trained therapist to ease the effects of long-term stress on your blood pressure, blood glucose, and depression. Mindfulness, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep can all help as well.

What’s next?

For over 40 years, I have, as a primary care doctor, advocated for an integrative approach to chronic conditions. This approach has consistently been shown to optimize a person’s ability to heal.

The same is true of chronic kidney disease.

In the second part of our two-part series, we will discuss integrative health practices for treating chronic kidney disease.

References

[i] Kidney Disease: The Basics. (2021). National Kidney Foundation, Retrieved https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/fsindex

[ii] Kidney Disease Statistics for the United States. (2016, December). National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved February 18, 2021, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/kidney-d…

[iii] Chronic Kidney Disease in the United States, 2021. (2021, March 4). Chronic Kidney Disease Initiative, Retrieved April 23, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/publications-resources/ckd-national-f…

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