What Is Chronic Kidney Disease

What is chronic kidney disease

If you’ve just been diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and are trying to learn more like what is chronic kidney disease, this post is for you. CKD is a condition that occurs when your kidneys become damaged and do not work as well as they should to filter the blood. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs on the back side of the body under the rib cage. In fact, they are only about the size of a fist. 

The kidneys have many important jobs like:

  • Removing waste products from the body
  • Balancing the body’s fluids
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Producing vitamin D
  • Controlling the production of red blood cells

When the kidneys are unable to filter properly, causing waste products (such as urea, uric acid, and creatinine) to build up in the blood and body and can cause health problems. This is what chronic kidney disease is.

CKD affects 10% of the worlds population. So you are not alone on this journey. CKD can be caused by high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, auto-immune conditions or genetic conditions. And CKD is a chronic condition because this damage has occurred over a long period of time. While CKD is not reversible, but the progression of the disease can be delayed and function preserved.

Symptoms of CKD

Most symptoms of CKD do not show up until later in the disease progression. Meaning our function has declined already. Symptoms of CKD, include:

•   weight loss or poor appetite

•   swollen ankles, feet or hands; also called edema

•   shortness of breath

•   tiredness

•   peeing more than usual, particularly at night

Nutrition changes at the different stages of CKD can help minimize the build up of waste products and extra filtering required by the kidneys to eliminate them and manage blood pressure. This helps to preserve kidney function. There are specific recommendations depending on what stage you are in which we will get into.

Blood Tests

The two main blood tests that are used to diagnose and monitor CKD: creatinine and eGFR. 

  • Creatine it is a waste product made by muscle activity. Level goes up as kidney function goes down. The amount of creatinine in your blood should be relatively stable. An higher level of creatinine may be a sign of poor kidney function.
  • Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) is a measure of how well the kidneys are working. The lower your eGFR, the less your kidneys are working. With CKD the goal is to keep your eGFR stable and delay progression of the disease, eGFR is calculated from blood creatinine, age, body size, gender. There are different stages of CKD and it is important to speak with your doctor to determine what your diagnosis is. However, generally the stages are as follows:
    • Stage 1: ≥ 90
    • Stage 2: 60-90
    • Stage 3: 30-59
    • Stage 4: 15-20
    • Stage 5: ≤15

Nutrition Changes for Stage 3 CKD

With CKD, symptoms are most noticeable with stage 3. So this is why many are diagnosed at this stage of CKD. And since your kidneys are functioning around 30-59%, nutrition changes to prevent the build up of waste products and edema (fluid) on the body are important. Let’s break them down.

Protein

Often chronic kidney disease and low protein diets go hand in hand. Too much protein causes excess waste products to build up. Following a low protein diet, like discussed in this post can help with CKD. Reducing animal protein and choosing more plant-based proteins can also help. Because plant-based proteins are easier for the kidneys to filter and can help to improve eGFR. But plant-based proteins can also help to control blood pressure with CKD. This doesn’t meant you need to give up animal proteins like chicken, fish, egg, or dairy completely; but you may want to limit the frequency.

Sodium

With decreased kidney function, too much salt causes fluid to build up on the body. This leads to edema and can cause shortness of breath, puffiness or swelling in the hands, arms, feet or legs, and blood pressure to rise. Following a low sodium diet is important to help manage our blood pressure and swelling in the body. A renal dietitian can help you determine  how much salt to consume and how to season your foods on a low sodium diet.

Potassium and Phosphorus

Potassium and phosphorus in our body are very personal depending on your bloodwork in stage 3 CKD you may need to follow a low potassium or low phosphorus diet. Speaking with your healthcare team can help you determine your needs. But one source of phosphorus called added phosphorus that is found in packaged or processed foods in the ingredient list should be avoided. You can identify these foods by looking for “phos” in the ingredient list. Check out this post for more information on phosphorus and CKD.

What Changes Can You Make?

Preserving your kidney function may seem overwhelming. But let’s break it down into some easy steps we can do.

  • Control your blood pressure
  • Manage your blood sugar, keep your blood sugar in target
  • Participate in physical activity
  • Have a balanced diet
  • Take medicines as instructed
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol

Are You Looking For A Balanced Diet With Stage 3 CKD?

If you’re looking to make changes to your nutrition or learn about what you should be eating for stage 3 CKD my Kidney Nutrition Fast Track course is here to help get you started. Learn about it here.

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Published by Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN

Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in renal nutrition helping those with chronic kidney disease. Emily holds a Master's degree in Foods and Nutrition and is a co-chair of the Southern Ontario Canadian Association of Nephrology Dietitians.

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