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Kidney Disease FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP on October 31, 2016

Take the Kidney Disease Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
Test your Knowledge!

Q:The only purpose of the kidneys is to filter blood. True or False?

A:False.

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs, located just below the ribcage on either side of the spine. They help filter your blood by removing waste and excess fluids, but they do much more. The kidneys help maintain the balance of electrolytes in the body. In addition, hormones produced by the kidney help regulate your blood pressure, make red blood cells, and help keep your bones strong.

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

A:True.

Each day, the kidneys filter up to 150 quarts of blood and produce 1 to 2 quarts of urine, which is composed of body wastes and extra water. The urine passes from the kidneys through tubes called ureters, into the bladder where it is stored until it is filled. When the bladder reaches capacity, signals are sent to the brain that it is time to urinate, and the urine is released out of the body through a tube called the urethra.

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

A:"Renal" is the medical term that refers to kidney function.

"Renal function" refers to the state of the kidneys, and how well they filter blood. Two healthy kidneys provide 100% of your renal function.

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

A:Kidney disease can have many different signs and symptoms that are non-specific, meaning, these same symptoms could also be signs of dysfunction in another body organ.

Some non-specific symptoms of renal disease include:
- Fatigue
- Weakness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry, itchy skin
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Urine is foamy
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling in the ankles and feet
- Muscle cramps

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

A:True.

It is possible to have kidney disease and have no symptoms for a long time. The damage to the kidneys can occur slowly and gradually, over many years, even decades. The most common causes of kidney damage include high blood pressure that is poorly managed, and uncontrolled diabetes.

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Q:Which kidney disease is known to be inherited?

A:Polycystic kidney disease.

A type of kidney disease that is genetic, or inherited, is polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Polycystic means "many cysts," and this disorder is characterized by cysts in both kidneys (bilateral renal cysts). These cysts can grow and cause the kidneys to get larger, while replacing the normal tissue. This can ultimately result in chronic kidney disease and kidney failure over time.

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

A:False.

Hemodialysis is a process that removes waste products and extra fluids from the blood – a job usually performed by healthy kidneys – and it's one of the options for treating renal failure. Peritoneal dialysis is another treatment option that filters the wastes and fluids, but it does so by using the lining of your belly (the peritoneum). Dialysis is usually tried first when renal failure occurs. These options do not cure renal failure, but they can improve the quality of life, and extend the lifespan for someone in renal failure. The last resort option is a kidney transplant, whereby the patient receives a kidney from a living or recently deceased donor. This can be a cure, however, the organ may be rejected, and the patient will need to be on immunosuppressant medications for the rest of their life.

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

A:A nephrologist is a physician who specializes in 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.

- Stage 1: Normal kidney function, but there are signs that point to kidney disease
- Stage 2: Mildly decreased kidney function, and there are signs that point to kidney disease
- Stage 3: Moderately reduced kidney function
- Stage 4: Severely reduced kidney function
- Stage 5: Very severe reduction in kidney function; end stage renal failure

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Q:People on dialysis should maintain diets high in protein. True or False?

A:True.

People on dialysis should maintain diets high in protein. High-quality protein produces less waste for removal during dialysis. Good sources for protein include meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.

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

A:True.

It is important that people on dialysis reduce their intake of the mineral potassium. Potassium levels in the blood may build up and become elevated in between dialysis treatments and can affect your heartbeat. Too much potassium in the blood (hyperkalemia) can cause nausea, weakness, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and can even lead to cardiac arrest and death.

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

A:False.

Patients on dialysis need to follow a restricted diet, which may cause them to be deficient in certain nutrients. However, it is not a good idea to try to replenish those nutrients with over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements. Many supplements contain vitamins and minerals that can be harmful to patients on dialysis. A doctor can prescribe supplements that are appropriate.

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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.

An excess of phosphorus in the blood can make skin feel itchy, and it can also pull calcium from the bones, leading to fractures. Processed foods are often high in phosphorus and should be avoided. Patients on dialysis should work with a dietician to manage dietary intake of phosphorus. Medications called phosphate binders may be prescribed to help absorb phosphorus from the food and allow it to pass through the body without being absorbed into the bloodstream.

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

A:The most common cause of renal failure in the U.S. is diabetes.

The U.S. Renal Data System ranks the top causes of kidney failure as follows:
1. Diabetes (43.8% of new cases of kidney failure)
2. High blood pressure (26.8%)
3. Glomerulonephritis (7.6%)
4. Cystic diseases (2.3%)
5. Urologic diseases (2.0%)
6. Other causes, combined (17.5%)

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