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For Patients & Families: What is Kidney Disease

what is kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as chronic renal disease, is a condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time.


When kidneys lose function, the wastes and extra fluid they normally filter from your body begin to build to high levels in your blood and make you feel sick. You may develop complications like high blood pressure, anemia (low blood count), weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage


Chronic kidney disease can also increase your risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease (also known as cardiovascular disease).


When chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage, the levels of fluids, electrolytes and wastes built up in your body can become life-threatening.

stages of kidney disease

measuring health and function

Stages of Kidney Disease

There are five stages of chronic kidney disease. They are shown in the table below. Your doctor determines your stage of kidney disease based on the presence of kidney damage and your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is a measure of your level of kidney function.


Your treatment is based on your stage of kidney disease. Speak to your doctor if you have any questions about your stage of kidney disease or your treatment time.


To learn more about your Glomerular Filtration Rate please visit our national office's Kidney A - Z Health Guide by clicking the links below. 

kidney disease facts

  • It is estimated that approximately 30 million American adults have CKD and millions of others are at increased risk.



  • CKD can greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and people with CKD often have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood lipids.


  • The most common cause of death in people with CKD is cardiovascular disease (rather than kidney failure).


  • People at high risk for CKD include those with diabetes, hypertension and family history of kidney failure.

  • Chronic kidney disease is closely associated with high blood pressure, also called Hypertension (HTN). The conditions share an intermingled cause and effect relationship, and a diagnosis of one often precedes a diagnosis of the other.


  • Studies have shown that African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Seniors are at increased risk for CKD.


  • CKD is commonly diagnosed by:

    • Testing blood pressure

    • Testing for creatinine in the bloodstream

    • Testing for protein in urine

    • Through an imaging test

    • Through removing a sample of kidney tissue for testing (a biopsy).


Basic Facts

causes and risk factors

The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes (usually Type 2, or adult onset diabetes, although children with Type 1 are also at risk), and high blood pressure (also called hypertension). These two disorders are responsible for up to two-thirds of CKD cases, and are often intertwined with a diagnosis.


Some of the other diseases and conditions that may affect the kidneys include: Glomerulonephritis, infections, obstructions (caused by problems like kidney stones, tumors or an enlarged prostate gland in men) and inherited diseases such as polycystic kidney disease. The kidneys can also be damaged by overuse of some over-the-counter pain killers and by taking illegal drugs.

To learn more about topics related to causes and risk factors for chronic kidney disease, please visit our national office's Kidney A - Z Health Guide by clicking the links below. 


kidney disease symptoms

In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, you may have few signs or symptoms. Chronic kidney disease may not become apparent until kidney function is significantly impaired, as signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease develop over time if kidney damage progresses slowly. Signs and symptoms of kidney disease may include:

  • Fatigue (feel tired, and have less energy)

  • Feeling cold when others are warm

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness and trouble concentrating

  • Poor appetite

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Muscle cramping at night

  • Swollen feet, hands, or ankles

  • Swollen, puffy face

  • Food taste alters (tastes like metal), and bad breath

  • Puffiness around eyes, especially in the morning

  • Muscle twitches and cramps

  • Hard to control blood pressure

  • Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting

  • Dry, itchy skin

  • Need to urinate more often, especially at night

  • Pressure during urination

CKD Symptoms

NKFI kidney health resources

The information shared on this website has been reviewed by staff at the New York City headquarters of the National Kidney Foundation. Please note: material contained here are intended solely for reference. This material does not constitute medical advice; it is intended for informational purposes only. If you feel you need professional medical care, please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.

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