Answers FAQ

Kidney Disease FAQs

Reviewed by Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

Take the Kidney Disease Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
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Q:The only purpose of the kidneys is to filter blood. True or False?

A:False.

The kidneys have several major functions. They remove waste materials and excess fluid from the body and help to maintain a good balance of electrolytes and minerals in the blood. They also help regulate blood pressure.

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Q:Urine is made in the kidneys. True or False?

A:True.

Normal kidneys process about 200 quarts of blood per day resulting in removal of waste products and excess water which comprise urine. About two quarts of urine are produced per day. Urine flows from the kidneys through ureters to the bladder. The bladder stores urine until a person urinates.

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Q:What is the medical term that refers to the function of the kidneys?

A:Renal.

The term "renal" refers to the kidneys, so "renal function" and "kidney function" are interchangeable terms. Renal function, when used by medical professionals, usually refers to how efficiently the kidneys filter blood. For example, two healthy kidneys in a person have 100% renal function.

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Q:What are common non-specific symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

A:There are a number of nonspecific symptoms that may occur with kidney disease.

The following is a list of some of these nonspecific symptoms: - Swelling of the hands and feet
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue
- Increased nighttime urination
- Frequently passing small amounts of urine
- Urine-like odor to breath
- Increased blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin and/or dry, itchy skin

Children may show increased fatigue and sleepiness, a decrease in their appetite, and/or a poor growth pattern.

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Q:A person can have chronic kidney disease without symptoms. True or False?

A:True.

Unfortunately, people can have renal disease for long periods of time before noticing any symptoms. Although it may seem like the symptoms come on quickly, they actually have been slowly progressing over a number of years. The slow progression is often seen in chronic kidney disease. Another term for chronic kidney disease is renal insufficiency. Over time, renal insufficiency can be followed by determining the creatinine level in the blood with a test that is readily available to most physicians. A rising creatinine level is an indicator that renal insufficiency is getting worse.

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Q:Which kidney disease is known to be inherited?

A:Polycystic kidney disease.

Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited renal disorder. In this disorder, some normal kidney tissue is replaced by fluid-filled cysts of various sizes in both kidneys. As the disease progresses, the cysts become larger and the functional kidney tissue decreases. Other organs like the lungs may also be affected by this disease.

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Q:Hemodialysis is the only treatment for kidney failure. True or False?

A:False.

Hemodialysis is not the only treatment for kidney failure. However, hemodialysis is usually done before the other two options are tried. The other two options are peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplantation; however, not every patient with kidney failure may be a candidate for all of these options.

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Q:What is the name of a doctor who specializes in kidney diseases?

A:A nephrologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases.

Such specialists may help patients avoid renal failure for years and can help a patient determine the best treatments if renal failure does occur.

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Q:How many stages of kidney disease are there?

A:There are five stages of chronic kidney disease.

There are five stages of chronic kidney disease. These stages indicate increased severity from mild stage I (one) to stage V (five) when the kidneys fail. Stage I indicates slight kidney damage while stage II (two) indicates a mild decrease in kidney function. Stage III (three) represents a moderate decrease in kidney function and stage IV (four) is a severe decrease in kidney function. Stage V indicates kidney failure.

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Q:People on dialysis should maintain diets high in what?

A:Protein.

People with kidney disease are supposed to eat reduced amounts of protein to help postpone kidney failure. However, when kidneys fail, the first treatment is usually dialysis. When people go on dialysis, their requirements change and they are encouraged to eat as much high-quality protein as possible. This usually means a big change in a person's eating habits. People on dialysis should eat quality protein found in meat, fish, poultry, and other sources like egg whites.

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Q:People on dialysis should eat reduced amounts of potassium. True or False?

A:True.

People on dialysis have difficulty sometimes because their mineral intake is not as easily managed. For example, eating foods that contain potassium can be dangerous to a patient's heart. High potassium levels may cause death from heart arrhythmias. Foods like avocados, bananas, dried fruit, and kiwi should be avoided because of their high potassium content.

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Q:Patients on dialysis can replenish lost nutrients with over-the-counter vitamins. True or False?

A:False.

Although patients on dialysis may miss out on certain important vitamins and minerals because they must avoid certain foods (see previous slide), they should not take vitamin supplements that are available over the counter. Although the patient needs certain vitamins and mineral supplements, they should be prescribed by their nephrologist. Some minerals found in over-the-counter vitamin preparations, like potassium, may harm a dialysis patient.

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Q:Why should patients with kidney diseases manage fluid intake?

A:Kidney disease alters the body's ability to balance fluid intake.

People with kidney diseases have to be very careful about their fluid intake. Patients who do not monitor their fluid intake can gain weight and develop edema (swelling) because they are retaining water. This extra fluid can cause higher blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and/or heart problems.

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Q:Too much phosphorous can cause itchy skin for patients on dialysis. True or False?

A:True.

Another common problem associated with kidney disease is itchy skin. This may occur because the patients are retaining too much phosphorus. In addition, the phosphorus may deplete calcium from bones that, in turn, can lead to bone fractures.

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Q:In the U.S. what is the leading cause of kidney failure?

A:Diabetes.

The most common cause of kidney failure in United States is diabetes. Diabetes accounts for about 44% of all new cases of renal failure. The top five causes of renal failure, according to the U.S. Renal Data system, are diabetes, high blood pressure, glomerulonephritis, cystic diseases, and urologic diseases.

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