What everyone should know about CKD

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) means your kidneys are damaged and aren’t cleaning your blood as effectively. It’s called “chronic” because your kidneys may have become damaged over a long time period and because the condition doesn’t get better. The disease is also progressive, meaning it may keep getting slowly worse over time.

It’s estimated that 37 million people in the United States live with CKD. Because symptoms can be very subtle, many people with CKD may not realize that they have this disease.

Fortunately, treatment for CKD has come a long way in recent years. With early diagnosis, good medical care, and a commitment to a kidney-healthy lifestyle, most people can slow down the progression of CKD.

What kidneys do

The kidneys remove waste products from your blood. Waste is formed when your body breaks down nutrients. After your body has taken what it needs from what you eat and drink, solid waste products are eliminated through your bowels, but additional small waste products are released into the blood. If your kidneys don’t  filter and remove this waste in your urine, it can build up to harmful levels and damage your body.

Healthy kidneys work around the clock to remove waste and extra fluid from your blood. Here’s how:

  • Blood is pumped into the kidneys from arteries in the heart.
  • Millions of tiny ‘filters’ in the kidneys clean the blood.
  • Waste passes from the blood into the bladder as urine. 
  • The cleaned blood goes back to the bloodstream. 
  • When your bladder fills, your body flushes the urine out as you pee.

Why kidneys stop working

Kidneys usually fail for one of two reasons: chronic kidney disease or acute kidney injury. 

Chronic kidney disease damages your kidneys over a period of years or decades due to diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or other disorders. Often you won’t feel symptoms of CKD until the disease is already advanced, so it’s important to have your doctor monitor your kidney function to make sure your kidneys are filtering waste properly.

Acute kidney injury happens quickly, over a few hours or days. It may be seen in people who are critically ill and can be caused when kidneys are damaged due to widespread infection, severe dehydration, or from poisons or some medicines.

What the 5 stages of CKD mean

CKD progresses through five stages, but usually has no symptoms until stage 4 and 5. However, by stage 4 and 5, it can be too late to slow progression of the disease. Prevention and/or early diagnosis are critical for a longer, healthier life.

The first step? Make sure your doctor tests your kidney function at least once a year.

CKD Stages

What is YOUR GFR?

This is an important question to ask your doctor. Your GFR tells you how well your kidneys are working. A GFR over 60 means your kidneys are filtering well. Under 60? Talk to your doctor. A combination of good healthcare and a commitment to a kidney-friendly lifestyle can prolong your kidney function.

Satellite CKD GFR

Two ways to measure how well kidneys work

Your doctor can check your kidney function through blood and urine tests.

Blood Test

With a simple blood test, your doctor can tell how much creatinine (a waste product) is in your blood. The doctor uses this number to calculate how much waste your kidneys filter in a minute. This is called your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). The higher the GFR, the more effectively your kidneys are filtering waste.

Urine Test

A urine test is looking at what is and is not present in your urine, including:

  • Albumin or protein 
  • Blood

Healthy kidneys should keep blood and protein from spilling into the urine. If blood or protein are present in the urine, this could be a sign of kidney damage or inflammation.  


Additional resources

Knowledge is power. Learn all you can about CKD for a better, longer life.

The Kidney School

A series of online learning presentations helps you build your understanding of CKD.

Visit their library of topics in English

Visit their library of topics in Spanish

Free eBook in more than 32 languages

“Save Your Kidneys” is a complete, compact and practical guide on all major kidney problems written by a nephrologist with many years of experience. It includes basic information about early diagnosis, care and treatment of common kidney diseases.

Podcasts about kidney disease

KidneyTalk is a long-running audio program that covers a wide range of topics with a series of podcasts designed for people who are newly diagnosed with CKD.