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Chronic Kidney Disease: A Silent Killer

Chronic Kidney disease (CKD), also called chronic renal failure, is a condition in which the kidney loses a significant ability to filter wastes and excess fluids from the body.

What this means is that, with the kidney’s excretory capacity impaired, wastes and fluids will build up in the body, causing severe deleterious effects and death. The final stage of chronic kidney disease is a stage of irreversible damage to the kidney caused end-stage renal disease (ESRD)

Chronic kidney disease is a silent killer, with slow progression to significant kidney damage. In the early stages of the disease, an individual may show no symptoms.

More than 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from chronic kidney disease. Today, more than 3 million people with the disease receive treatment every year, with over 9 million still needing treatment.

Chronic Kidney disease is 3-4 times more common in Africa than in developed nations, because of the high prevalence of common causes of CKD – diabetes, hypertension, and infectious diseases such as HIV.

In sub-Saharan Africa, close to 15 percent of the adult population live with this disease, and it corresponds to more than 78 percent of people with the disease worldwide.

Because most people in low-income and middle-income countries, as in Africa, have no health insurance, have poor kidney screening measures, and lack access to healthcare, a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease is more or less a death sentence.

What are the signs and symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease?

In the early stages of CKD, there are only a few symptoms if any. The disease becomes apparent when the kidney has lost about 90 percent of its function.

When symptoms manifest, they are usually non-specific and include the following.

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced urine volume
  • Severe itching
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Disorientation

What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease is caused by diseases that impair the kidney’s ability to do its job. The common causes of chronic kidney disease include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Recurrent kidney infections
  • Communicable diseases, such as HIV infection and schistosomiasis.
  • Diseases that obstruct urine outflow, such as prostate enlargement, prostate cancer, and kidney stones.
  • Genetic diseases of the kidney such as polycystic kidney disease.
  • The factors that increase your risk of chronic kidney disease include:
  • Advancing age
  • Being an Africa, African-American, or Asian-American
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • A family history of the disease

What Happens when you have Chronic Kidney Disease?

The kidneys play a critical role in the body; excreting wastes and maintaining water balance. If this capacity is severely impaired, it will affect how almost all organs in the body function.

The complications of chronic kidney disease include:

  • Fluid retention in tissues; fluid may accumulate in the lungs causing shortness of breath.
  • Anaemia: The kidney’s ability to produce red blood cells becomes significantly impaired.
  • Damage to the brain; this causes seizures, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
  • Bone weakness
  • Heart problems
  • End-stage renal disease; where the damage to the kidney becomes irreversible.

How is Chronic Kidney Disease Treated?

Treatment of chronic kidney disease depends on the underlying cause. Doctors will give treatment for the underlying cause of the disease to slow down the progression of kidney damage. Treatment also involves prescribing medicines to relieve the symptoms and control the complications of kidney damage.

However, if the kidney has become irreversibly damaged, as in ESRD, you will need dialysis – a procedure where a machine artificially removes wastes from your blood and sends back filtered blood to your body – or kidney transplant, in which you receive kidneys donated by deceased or living persons.

How can you prevent chronic kidney disease?

These will reduce your risk of developing the disease:

  • Maintain a healthy weight; obesity is a risk factor for chronic kidney disease, and keeping your weight healthy by exercising and modifying your diet can prevent this.
  • Quit smoking
  • BE careful with drugs: Follow your doctor’s instructions with medicines. Drugs such as aspirin and acetaminophen can impair kidney function and may cause damage if not used appropriately.
  • Maintain a heart-healthy diet: eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and less of foods rich in saturated fats.












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