What is chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Understanding CKD

CKD is a condition characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function over time. The loss of function is due to kidney damage, which ultimately limits your kidneys’ ability to filter blood as well as they should. Excess fluid and waste begin to build up in the body, which can make you feel sick.

CKD refers to the 5 stages of kidney disease, from mild loss of kidney function at Stage 1 to complete kidney failure at Stage 5. Early detection of CKD (in Stages 1–4) and treatment can potentially keep CKD from getting worse. However, at Stage 5 CKD you need dialysis or a transplant to live.

Kidney failure (also called end-stage kidney disease), which occurs at Stage 5, means that the kidneys are functioning at less than 15% of normal. There is no cure for CKD, but with treatment it is possible to live a long life. The earlier it’s detected, the better.

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Did you know that about 37 million U.S. adults (or more than 1 in 7) are estimated to have CKD? 

As many as 9 in 10 adults with CKD don’t know they have this condition. 

Illustration of two kidneys with words "Be aware of the silent killer"

CKD: The silent killer

How is this possible? CKD is a silent killer because people may not feel sick or even notice any symptoms until later stages of kidney disease. 

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Lifestyle and CKD

Living a healthy lifestyle can protect your kidneys and reduce your risk of developing CKD. Uncontrolled high blood pressure or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to CKD. Risk of kidney failure (Stage 5 CKD) increases when these conditions are not treated and/or controlled. 

Lifestyle factors have a big impact on CKD outcome:

  • Work with your healthcare provider to keep your blood sugar and blood pressure within normal range
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Get regular check-ups
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How does CKD impact lifestyle?

CKD usually doesn’t affect lifestyle in the early stages. This is because many people don’t have any symptoms. Once the disease is advanced, symptoms can impact lifestyle. Some patients with advanced kidney disease may experience: 

  • Less energy 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Muscle cramping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss 
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Decreased sexual response
  • Depression or memory lapses

Other pages you may be interested in!

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What is chronic kidney disease (CKD) and how is it treated?

Increase your understanding of CKD. Learn how to manage your life with CKD. Work with your healthcare team and review CKD treatment options and the different types of dialysis.

5 stages

The stages of CKD

CKD can range from mild to very severe. The 5 stages of CKD describe the severity.