Chronic kidney disease

Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease

The kidneys perform several vital functions including getting rid of excess water from the body, cleansing the blood of toxins and separating waste products for excretion. 

If the kidneys don’t work properly, this can lead to a build-up of waste and toxicity in the body and cause a range of health problems including high blood pressure, swelling, back pain and heart disease. 

Over 37 million people in the USA alone are thought to be living with chronic kidney disease. The more startling statistic is that as many as 90% of those affected don’t realise they have it. 

Here we take a look at what chronic kidney disease is, how it develops and how a functional medicine approach can help manage the condition.

What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Kidney function can be damaged in a variety of ways. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) develops when normal functioning is compromised which means that the body is unable to get rid of waste properly. 

The term chronic, when referring to chronic medical conditions, means that the issue is considered to be affecting the patient on a long-term basis. Once discovered, chronic conditions often require some form of management or ongoing medical intervention. Chronic kidney disease passes through 5 stages, each of which leads to a more severe outcome and eventual kidney failure.

Stages of chronic kidney disease
  • Stage 1: There is kidney damage but the normal function is maintained. This is why the condition can go unnoticed for a considerable time as there are not many symptoms.
  • Stage 2: We begin to see a small loss in kidney function. The patient may notice mild symptoms such as fluid retention and high blood pressure. 
  • Stage 3: Here we see mild to moderate loss of kidney function with more severe symptoms such as back pain and fatigue. 
  • Stage 4: There is severe kidney function loss with symptoms such as anaemia and bone disease.
  • Stage 5: Kidney function is either close to breakdown or lost completely. Patients will need dialysis to get rid of toxins and will suffer from symptoms such as shortness of breath and nausea and vomiting.

What Can Cause Chronic Kidney Disease?

Damage to the kidneys can happen suddenly in some cases. This is usually due to a traumatic event such as an injury or something like a viral infection. Taking certain medications can also have a huge impact on the kidneys and prolonged use can lead to disease. 

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition which results in a loss of kidney function over time. The two most common causes of CKD in modern society are diabetes and high blood pressure – these account for around two-thirds of all cases. 

Diabetes affects blood sugar levels and, over time, damages many organs in the body including the kidneys. High blood pressure increases the force of blood against the walls of blood vessels leading to more damage. 

Other factors can play a role in the development of chronic kidney disease. Ethnicity is one, as people of African American, Hispanic or Native American descent are considered to typically be more at risk. If there is a history of the disease in the family there may also be a further increased risk. 

The overuse of pain medications such as ibuprofen, excessive alcohol intake or drug abuse can also be factors.

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease?

The symptoms of chronic kidney disease will vary depending on how advanced the condition is. During the early stages, the individual may have a urinary tract infection, high blood pressure and some swelling in the legs. 

As the disease progresses, they might experience fatigue and weakness, itchy skin, and back pain. During the later stages, there will be nausea and vomiting and swelling in the extremities as the body struggles to remove toxins.

Treating Chronic Kidney Disease

Patients diagnosed with chronic kidney disease need to be monitored carefully. In the early stages, they will be encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes such as eating fresh fruit and vegetables, cutting out smoking and drinking and taking plenty of exercise. People who make these sorts of changes are often able to manage and control their condition reasonably well. 

In later stages, treatment can involve taking medication and, in severe cases, undergoing dialysis which removes the blood, cleans it and then returns it to the body, essentially performing the function of the damaged kidneys.

The Functional Medicine Approach to Chronic Kidney Disease

A conventional medicine approach can struggle with the control of kidney disease as it tends to focus solely on the symptoms rather than the root cause. The disease often progresses until the individual needs dialysis to keep them healthy. 

A functional medicine approach takes a deeper look at the underlying cause of the disease. As most people who have CKD are also diabetic or have high blood pressure, lifestyle modifications can have a huge impact on their prognosis and their overall health and wellbeing. 

A functional medicine practitioner, for example, would focus on reducing someone’s weight and bringing their diabetes under control with exercise and good diet choices. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, which is why a highly personalized approach is so effective and this is a core principle of functional medicine.