The RenalTracker Team
May 23, 2022

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. It has been written and vetted by RenalTracker's team of kidney experts and researchers. The same team was awarded the KidneyX Prize organized by the American Society of Nephrology and HHS for pre-dialysis solution in Washington DC in 2019.   

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Kidney disease usually progresses slowly. Blood and urine tests can help doctors decide whether the kidneys are still working well enough, or whether dialysis will be needed soon. While kidney disease can progress at different rates for people, there are still many factors involved in determining how quickly you'll experience symptoms and need treatment. One such factor is if your CKD goes unnoticed until it reaches a more advanced stage before being detected by health professionals. This means that some patients may not develop any signs or symptoms, while other individuals will experience them.

Chronic Kidney Disease is a leading public health problem worldwide. The global estimated prevalence of CKD currently stands at 13%. Patients with end-stage kidney disease needing renal replacement therapy have been estimated between 4-7 million, meaning that this condition affects almost 10% or more than one out every ten people. 

Several tests can help with the diagnosis and management of chronic kidney disease. Urine samples allow doctors to monitor how well your kidneys are functioning, while blood work gives them insight into whether you're at risk or already experiencing complications from this illness. It's also extremely important later down the line: With regular checkups every few months, your medical provider will know if anything has changed in your health status before it gets worse. Depending on your current stage of disease and the treatment options available, you can discuss the next management options with our doctor. This is an important step because it might mean that undergoing dialysis may be necessary.

What is CKD?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is among the leading health public concern worldwide, where about 27 million adults in the US are affected and most are undiagnosed. It is estimated that around 40% of people with severely reduced kidney function do not know they have CKD. CKD is where kidney function declines and the kidneys can no longer filter blood and waste materials properly. Due to this, excess fluid and waste in the blood remain in the body, causing other health problems including heart disease, stroke, bone disease, etc. 

Among the symptoms of CKD are:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Depression or decreased quality of life

  • Diabetes

  • Anemia

  • Edema or fluid retention that could lead to swelling in the arms, legs, and lungs (pulmonary edema)

  • Hyperkalemia (a sudden rise in potassium levels in the blood. This could impair the heart's function

  • Bone disease and an increased risk of bone fractures

  • Central nervous system damage that causes seizures, personality changes, etc. 

  •  Weakened immune system

  • Irreversible damage to your kidneys (end-stage kidney disease) that eventually requires renal replacement therapy or kidney transplant

CKD has varying levels of seriousness. It usually gets worse over time though treatment has been shown to slow progression. CKD patients with End-Stage Kidney Disease who need renal replacement therapy are estimated between 4.902 and 7.083 million. It affects global mortality through its effect on cardiovascular risk and ESRD. The worldwide increase of CKD is due to the pervasiveness of CKD risk factors including obesity, aging, hypertension, and diabetes. 

CKD Risk Factors

Diabetes and high blood pressure are among the leading risk factors for CKD. Other conditions that can affect the condition include: 

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidney's filtering units (glomeruli)

  • Ethnicity including Black, Native American or Asian American, African, Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pacific Islander ethnicity

  • Family history of kidney disease

  • Abnormal kidney structure

  • Age (older age)

  • Certain medications

How Will I Know if I Have CKD? 

CKD may have no symptoms until the later stages, and even then, it can be hard to tell because those with healthy kidneys will often not experience any significant changes in their health over time. A person who is diagnosed late could have this disease and go unnoticed for a while. Nevertheless, regular routine health checks are important to monitor unusual values, and if you develop the symptoms mentioned above, you should check them with your primary healthcare provider. 

Creatinine is a waste product created by the body when it breaks down muscle tissue. Creatine can be used as an early indicator of kidney problems because creatine concentrations rise with damage to your organs since they're normally at equilibrium. When you have damaged kidneys, they work less efficiently, which causes an increase in creatinine levels. 

More often, CKD is diagnosed during a routine checkup or when a patient is tested for other diseases. Click this link to know more about CKD lab tests.

How fast does CKD progress?

Kidney disease can be hard to manage, as the kidneys can continue to get worse even after the cause of damage has gone. This is more likely due to comorbid conditions including diabetes and hypertension or if there is so much urine leaking into the urine. The progression of your CKD depends on the cause, stage, age, ethnicity as well as whether you've had symptoms before starting a treatment or not at all. If you cannot manage health issues, the faster the CKD is likely to advance. 

Protein in your urine can be an early sign that you're developing kidney problems. It's also one of the many factors that contributed to how quickly the disease will progress. It's been proven people with higher albuminuria or proteinuria have a higher risk of advancing to the next stage of CKD.Nevertheless, the progression of CKD has been extensively studied, although most studies focused on the causes of the decline of kidney function and the likelihood of the development of ESRD and not the rate of progression. 

Injury to the kidneys in CKD can be irreversible. If you lose or scar off one nephron, that organ can't grow back and heal properly – meaning continued injury could lead to permanent damage that will never heal again. However, it is possible to slow down the progression of your kidney condition.

Common indicators of CKD progression

The rate of progression may be different for each patient, multiple studies revealed that common indicators of faster CKD progression are: 

  • High blood pressure

  • Proteinuria (higher than normal protein level in urine)

  • Cardiovascular diseases such as congestive heart failure

  • Low levels of the protein albumin in the blood

  • Longer duration of diabetes before diagnosis

  • Acute kidney injury

  • Low hemoglobin levels (<13 g/dL)

Can you slow down CKD?

It is important to understand how CKD progresses to manage its advancement. While CKD is incurable, there are doable steps to protect the kidneys from further damage. These preventative measures are especially helpful at the early stages of the disease. Consider the following: 

Consult with your doctor

The first thing you need to do to slow down CKD progression is to discuss your condition with your nephrologist. Your doctor will provide personalized treatment for your unique health requirements. They can also work with a renal dietitian for meal plans that are gentle to your kidneys.

Follow a kidney-friendly diet

When you have CKD, certain foods can exacerbate your condition. These foods have high levels of nutrients such as sodium, protein, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium that can harm your kidneys. Depending on your CKD stage, your doctor may recommend you limit your intake of these nutrients. 

Manage your weight

If you are overweight, try to lose weight, as the extra weight forces the kidneys to work harder and filter wastes above the usual level. This extra work can increase the risk of CKD or worsen the condition of CKD. Consequently, CKD patients are at substantial risk for malnutrition due to micronutrient deficiency among other factors. Hence, it is best to talk to a renal dietitian to ensure you get the right amount of nutrients without harming your kidneys. 

The Bottomline

Early detection and appropriate treatment are important in slowing the advancement of CKD to prevent kidney failure. While CKD is incurable, it is still possible to still have a quality life. Following your medical team’s advice and incorporating a healthy kidney-friendly diet as well as lifestyle, can help in slowing down CKD progression.