Kidney disease

Kidney disease can go on for a long time without you noticing. If you’re at risk of kidney disease, you need to know what it is and how to prevent it.

Summary

What is kidney disease?

  • Your kidneys clean your blood by working as a filter to remove water and wastes from your body. Kidney disease damages these filters so they don’t do their job properly.
  • Kidney disease usually affects both kidneys and may also damage other parts of your body, such as your heart.
  • When enough of the filters are damaged, the body will fill up with excess wastes and water. This is called kidney failure. It can happen when you have kidney disease for a long period of time (chronic kidney disease).
  • Kidney failure is fatal if not treated by either dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Am I at risk?

You’re at greater risk of kidney disease if you:

  • have high blood pressure
  • have diabetes
  • smoke
  • have a family history of kidney disease
  • are over 50
  • are of Māori or Pacific heritage.

If you’re in any of these groups, do yourself a favour – ask your doctor for a kidney check-up.


Related websites

Kidney Health New Zealand
A non-profit organisation funding research and raising awareness of kidney disease.

Kidney Society Auckland
Providing information and support for people living with kidney failure.

Better Health Channel
Providing online consumer-focused health and medical information.

Health Navigator
The Health Navigator NZ website helps you find reliable and trustworthy health information and self-help resources.

Symptoms

Most kidney disease doesn’t cause any symptoms until the late stages.

If you’re at risk of kidney disease, it’s best to get tested – that way you can catch chronic kidney disease early and help stop it getting worse.

Treatment

If you find out about kidney disease early, there are things you can do to help slow down or prevent further damage.

To protect your kidneys:

  • keep high blood pressure under control – usually with medication
  • keep your blood sugar under control if you have diabetes
  • avoid dehydration
  • avoid medications that could damage your kidneys, such as those containing ibuprofen or diclofenac.

Over time, if the damage becomes really bad, the kidneys can not get better. This is called kidney failure.

Treatments for kidney failure

People with kidney failure have 3 treatment options:

  1. dialysis
  2. kidney transplant
  3. conservative treatment.

Dialysis

You can’t live without having your blood cleaned properly. So, when someone’s kidneys have failed completely, a treatment called dialysis can take over the job of filtering and cleaning the blood.

Is dialysis forever?
If your kidneys have failed, you must stay on dialysis for the rest of your life, unless you can get a new kidney

While dialysis takes time and effort, and is not as easy or as good as having healthy kidneys, it still does a pretty good job to help people live a normal life.

You can read more about dialysis in the booklet Treatment Options for Chronic Kidney Disease (PDF, 5 MB).

Kidney transplant

Unfortunately dialysis can’t make your kidneys work again. If you have complete kidney failure, a kidney transplant may be an option.

A kidney transplant is an operation to have someone else’s healthy kidney put inside your body. If the transplant works well, you’ll no longer need dialysis.

For most people with kidney failure, having a kidney transplant is the best treatment. You can learn more from the booklet Having a Kidney Transplant (PDF, 6.6 MB).

People who are considering donating a kidney can find out more at Live kidney donation.

Conservative treatment

Some people decide to have ‘conservative’ treatment (also called palliative or supportive care) rather than dialysis or a transplant – particularly if they have other serious health problems.

Conservative treatment includes medical, emotional, social, spiritual and practical care for both you and your family/whānau.

You can learn more by reading the booklet Conservative Treatment (PDF, 276 KB).

Choosing the best treatment option

If you have kidney problems, you can expect to be looked after by a team of people who are specially trained. They’ll help you come to a decision about the best treatment option for you.

Prevention

 If you’re at risk of kidney disease, lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, stopping smoking, eating less salt and drinking less alcohol can help you avoid getting it.

If you have high blood pressure

Talk to your doctor about what your blood pressure should be and what you can do to keep it at a safe level.

  • You may need to make some lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medication to control your blood pressure.

If you have diabetes

If you have diabetes, good blood pressure and blood sugar control are very important to reduce the risk of kidney damage.

  • Have a kidney check at least once a year. This will include a blood test, urine test and a check of your blood pressure. Get your doctor to explain the results.
  • Keep good control of your blood sugar levels, to help slow kidney damage.
  • Make healthy food choices. It’s important to follow the eating plan given to you by your dietician or health professional.
  • Avoid becoming dehydrated, especially when you’re sick.
  • Make sure you do some regular physical activity (like walking).
  • Only drink small amounts of alcohol.
  • Control blood cholesterol levels with diet and medication as needed.
  • Don’t take non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or diclofenac.
  • Treat urinary infections immediately.

Living with

Chronic kidney disease is not usually curable. The good news is that if you find out about it early, you can help slow down the disease.

Lifestyle changes such as exercising more, losing weight, eating less salt, drinking less alcohol and quitting smoking can help.

Healthy eating

Eating well is very important to help you stay as healthy and strong as possible. A healthy diet helps your kidneys work more easily and can keep you well for longer.

Talk to your kidney team about changes you may need to make to your diet. What is right for others may not be right for you.

For more information on healthy eating when you have kidney disease, read Chronic Kidney Disease and Nutrition (PDF, 381 KB).

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