Your kidneys play an essential role in your body, cleaning waste products and toxins out of your blood to keep it (and you) healthy. Sometimes, however, due to a health condition, infection or number of other potential causes, your kidneys may start to lose their ability to function properly. When this happens, it means you have kidney disease. Learning what kidney disease is, how it can affect you and what treatment options exist can help you understand how to maintain your health and advocate for yourself while living with this condition.
Types of Kidney Disease
In general, having kidney disease means your kidneys have endured some type of damage that has caused them to not work the way they should. Normally, as your blood flows through your body, it gathers waste products like old or non-functioning cells, extra electrolytes and acids that your other organs produce. Once it reaches your kidneys, they filter out the harmful waste and excess water before returning the refreshed blood to your body and excreting the water and waste as urine. Each day, healthy kidneys with typical functioning filter about 30 gallons of blood.
When your kidneys become damaged, they also become unable to filter out the cellular and electrolyte waste products efficiently, and these toxins begin building up in your blood. This can cause a range of complications, such as heart disease, anemia, weakened bones, damage to your nervous system and anemia. Left untreated, this buildup can also be fatal, which is another reason why these organs are so important — and why it’s so essential to understand kidney disease.
Kidney disease is often classified into two types: acute and chronic. Acute kidney disease, which is also called acute kidney failure, happens when your kidneys suddenly become unable to filter your blood properly. This failure usually takes place over the course of a few hours or days, and it often happens to at-risk people who are already hospitalized and getting care for another health condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, acute kidney disease usually results from a condition that slows the flow of blood to your kidneys; a blockage in your ureters that prevents urine from leaving your body, instead causing the waste to back up into your kidneys; or direct damage to your kidneys from an infection, blood clot, physical accident or other type of disease, condition or agent.
In contrast to acute kidney disease, chronic kidney disease takes place gradually over time as your kidneys lose their function at a slower rate. This type of kidney failure happens over months or years instead of hours or days. It’s typically the result of having another disease or condition that impairs kidney function more and more the longer you live with that disease or condition. Having uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure or experiencing frequent kidney infections can lead to the long-term damage that causes chronic kidney disease.