Frequently Asked Questions

Health Information Frequently Asked Questions

Kidney disease is often called a "silent" disease, because most people have no symptoms in early kidney disease. In fact, you might feel just fine until your kidneys have almost stopped working. Do NOT wait for symptoms! Blood and urine tests are the only way to check for kidney damage or measure kidney function.
Kidney disease is often called a "silent" disease, because most people have no symptoms in early kidney disease. In fact, you might feel just fine until your kidneys have almost stopped working. Do NOT wait for symptoms! Blood and urine tests are the only way to check for kidney damage or measure kidney function

A blood test and a urine test are used to find kidney disease. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, you should also get tested regularly -- ask your health care provider how often.

The blood test checks your GFR. GFR stands for glomerular (glow-MAIR-you-lure) filtration rate. GFR is a measure of how much blood your kidneys filter each minute. This shows how well your kidneys are working.

GFR is reported as a number.

  • A GFR of 60 or higher is in the normal range.
  • A GFR below 60 may mean you have kidney disease. However, because GFR decreases as people age, other information may be needed to determine if you actually have kidney disease.
  • A GFR of 15 or lower may mean kidney failure.

You can't raise your GFR, but you can try to keep it from going lower. Ask your healthcare provider what you can do to keep your kidneys healthy.

The urine test for kidney disease looks for albumin (al-BYOO-min), a type of protein, in your urine. A healthy kidney does not let albumin pass into the urine. A damaged kidney lets some albumin pass into the urine. This test has several different names. You could be told that you are being screened for "proteinuria" or "albuminuria" or "microalbuminuria." Or you could be told that your "urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio" (UACR) is being measured.

If you have albumin or protein in your urine, it could mean you have kidney disease.

If you have albumin or protein in your urine, it could mean you have kidney disease.

  • A urine albumin result below 30 is normal.
  • A urine albumin result above 30 is abnormal and may mean kidney disease.

Your healthcare provider might do additional tests to be sure.

Treatments for early kidney disease include both diet and lifestyle changes and medications. Diet and lifestyle changes, such as eating heart healthy foods and exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight, can help prevent the diseases that cause kidney damage. If you already have diabetes and/or high blood pressure, keeping these conditions under control can keep them from causing further damage to your kidneys.

Two types of blood-pressure medicines -- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) -- have been shown to protect the kidneys and delay kidney failure. These medicines have been shown to protect kidney function in people who have either diabetes or high blood pressure, as well as those with various types of kidney disease.

Many people need two or more types of medicines to keep their blood pressure below recommended levels to keep the kidneys healthy. (Your systolic blood pressure—the first number—should be less than 140.) A diuretic (water pill) also can be important. Your healthcare provider will determine which medication or combination of medications is right for you.

Because you have kidney disease, you need to be careful about all the medicines you take. Your kidneys do not filter as well as they did in the past. This can cause an unsafe buildup of medicines in your blood. Some medicines can also harm your kidneys.

Your pharmacist and health care provider need to know about all the medicines you take so they can give you advice on how to protect your kidneys.

Some older adults with kidney disease may be taking medications for other diseases as well. As kidney disease progresses, it is likely that the doctor will need to adjust the dosages of medications which affect the kidney or are removed by the kidney.

Dialysis is a treatment to filter wastes and water from your blood. There are two major forms of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

In hemodialysis, blood is run through a filter outside of your body and the clean blood is returned to the body.

Hemodialysis is usually done at a dialysis center three times a week, but it can also be done at home. Each session usually lasts between three and four hours.

Peritoneal dialysis is another way to remove wastes from your blood. This kind of dialysis uses the lining of your abdominal cavity (the space in your body that holds organs like the stomach, intestines, and liver) to filter your blood. It works by putting a special fluid into your abdomen that absorbs waste products in your blood as it passes through small blood vessels in this lining. This fluid is then drained away. A key benefit of peritoneal dialysis is that it can be done at home, while you sleep.

Having kidney disease means you may need to change what you drink.

  • Water. Most people don't benefit from drinking water when they are not thirsty unless they have kidney stones. Drink as much water as you normally do.
  • Soda and other drinks. If you are told to limit phosphorus, choose light-colored soda (or pop), like lemon-lime, and homemade iced tea and lemonade. Dark-colored sodas, fruit punch, and some bottled and canned iced teas can have added phosphorus.
  • Juice. If you are told to limit potassium, drink apple, grape, or cranberry juice instead of orange juice.
  • Alcohol. You may be able to drink small amounts of alcohol. Drinking too much can damage the liver, heart, and brain and cause serious health problems. Talk to your health care provider first.

For people who are on dialysis or approaching total kidney failure, adequate nutrition is important for to maintaining energy, strength, healthy sleep patterns, bone health, heart health, and good mental health. The diet should be based on the type of treatment the person is receiving.
  • People on hemodialysis must watch how much fluid they drink and avoid eating foods with too much sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.
  • In contrast, people on peritoneal dialysis—a type of dialysis that uses the lining of the abdomen, or belly, to filter the blood inside the body—may be able to eat more potassium-rich foods because peritoneal dialysis removes potassium from the body more efficiently than hemodialysis.
  • Both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis can remove proteins from the body, so anyone on either form of dialysis should eat protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, and eggs.
All dialysis centers and transplant clinics have a person, known as a renal dietitian, who specializes in helping people with kidney failure. People who are on dialysis or have a kidney transplant should talk with their clinic’s renal dietitian to develop a meal plan that will enhance the effectiveness of their treatment.
Dialysis can be a special challenge for older adults, especially those who have other diseases or conditions. For example, hemodialysis requires that a person be able to leave home, travel to the dialysis facility, and sit for 4 hours during treatment. Peritoneal dialysis can be done at home, but requires someone to help. Often, older adults require assistance with some or all of these activities, and they and their families need to consider these issues as they choose treatment options and living facilities.

Instead of dialysis, some people with kidney failure -- including older adults -- may be able to receive a kidney transplant. This involves having a healthy kidney from another person surgically placed into your body. The new, donated kidney does the work that your two failed kidneys used to do.

The donated kidney can come from an anonymous donor who has recently died, or from a living person -- usually a relative. But you might also be able to receive a kidney from an unrelated donor, including your spouse or a friend.

Kidney transplantation is a treatment for kidney failure -- not a cure. You will need to see your healthcare provider regularly. And you will need to take medications for as long as you have your transplant to suppress your immune system so it doesn't reject the transplanted kidney.