10 Facts About Kidney Disease Seniors Should Know
Kidney failure claims the lives of nearly 80,000 Americans each year. That statistic alone should grab the attention of every U.S. citizen. Kidney failure results from chronic kidney disease. It results from cumulative damage to the kidneys over a period of years, in most cases. That means elderly seniors are the most vulnerable sector of the population.
What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?
The term "kidney disease" is a catch-all term for a collection of different diseases. In the U.S., chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the most common form of kidney disease. Those suffering with CKD have some form of permanent loss of kidney function, meaning the kidneys do not filter the blood as they should. There are many causative factors that build up over time, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and some types of infections. Physical injury to the kidneys can also result in CKD.
What Seniors Should Know
When the kidneys cannot filter the blood properly, excess fluid and waste products in the blood are not removed from the body. These build up and may create other health problems.
CKD affects 15 percent of the adult population in the United States. That equates to 30 million people, and almost half of those whose kidney function is severely impaired are unaware that they have the condition. Of those with mildly reduced kidney function which may still be treatable, a staggering 96 percent are not aware that they have the disease.
As the sector of the population most affected by CKD, seniors need to know what's going on. Here are the top 10 facts about chronic kidney disease that all seniors should know.
- Risk factors for CKD include a family history of the disease, heart disease and/or obesity. Adults are at higher risk of developing CKD if they suffer with diabetes, high blood pressure or both.
- Women are more prone to CKD than men.
- Estimates suggest a CKD diagnosis is likely in 15 percent of Hispanics in the U.S.
- The only way to find out if CKD is a problem is through specific blood and urine tests. Those suffering with CKD may not notice any specific symptoms in the early stages of the disease, when it is most treatable.
- Treatment can slow the progression of kidney disease but it is a disease that usually gets worse as time goes by.
- If the kidneys stop working altogether, dialysis or a kidney transplant are the only remaining treatment options. At this point, the disease takes on the name "end-stage renal disease" (ESRD.)
- Certain people are more likely to end up requiring a kidney transplant or enduring ongoing dialysis: men (64 percent more likely than women), African-Americans (3 times more likely than other ethnicities) and Hispanics (35 percent more likely.)
- The chances of heart disease and stroke increase with kidney disease.
- Seniors with chronic kidney disease are at higher risk for dying from heart disease or other conditions that caused the CKD.
- Having CKD makes it even more important to properly manage blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Recognizing Kidney Disease
The first step in successfully treating chronic kidney disease is recognizing the condition. Because people with CKD may not feel sick, they may not notice the symptoms until the kidneys begin to fail.
Humans normally have two kidneys but can remain healthy with only one functioning. The design of the kidneys allows them to perform at a level beyond what the human body needs. This is why those with kidney disease or damage may have no symptoms; the diseased or damaged kidneys may still be functioning enough to keep a person feeling well.
As the disease progresses, however, symptoms may begin to appear. The first is usually swelling in the legs, feet or ankles, with swelling in the hands and face sometimes present also. This happens because the kidneys can't filter out the excess fluids and waste products.
Advanced CKD may cause any or all of the following symptoms:
- Pain in the chest
- Dry skin, itching or numbness in the extremities
- Decreased, or possibly increased, urination
- Loss of appetite with nausea, vomiting and weight loss
- Headaches with difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping
- Muscle cramps
- Metallic taste in the mouth and bad breath
- Shortness of breath
Living with Chronic Kidney Disease
If diagnosed early, kidney disease is manageable with medication and certain lifestyle changes. There are some lifestyle choices that can impact kidney function and prevent the development of other conditions that can cause kidney disease.
- Control of blood pressure can prevent or slow kidney damage.
- Do not smoke.
- Maintain a diet that's low in fat and cholesterol.
- Work with a doctor or nurse practitioner to set up a schedule of regular exercise.
- Maintain blood sugar at acceptable levels.
- Monitor salt and/or potassium intake.
Carrying a diagnosis of kidney disease can be a major stressor in life. There will naturally be concerns about future health and overall prognosis. A frank conversation with a doctor, especially a kidney specialist, can go a long way toward alleviating some of the anxiety.
There are also groups who help people understand and cope with chronic kidney disease. Support groups are available in cities and towns all across the country. Local physicians and health departments should be able to assist in locating such a group if requested. There are also national organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation, the American Association of Kidney Patients, or the American Kidney Fund who can offer help.