A complication is an additional medical condition, problem, or issue that arises as a result of, or in conjunction with, an existing disease, disorder, injury, or medical treatment. Complications can occur in various medical contexts and may impact the course, severity, or management of a primary condition. There are some complications of chronic kidney disease and this post will walk you through them.
Symptoms of kidney disease
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function over time (generally over 3 months or more). The severity and progression of CKD can vary, and in the early stages, you may not notice any symptoms. But, as the disease advances, the following symptoms and complications may occur:
- Fluid Retention: CKD can lead to the accumulation of excess fluid in the body, resulting in swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, and around the eyes.
- Changes in Urination: CKD can affect urinary habits, leading to changes such as: frequent urination (especially at night), decreasd urine output, foamy or dark colour urine, blood in the urine
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): CKD can both cause and be exacerbated by high blood pressure, and managing blood pressure is crucial in slowing the progression of the disease.
- Proteinuria: The presence of excess protein in the urine (proteinuria) is a common sign of kidney damage.
- Electrolyte Imbalances: As the kidneys lose their ability to regulate electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and calcium, imbalances can occur and lead to various symptoms such as muscle cramps, weakness, and irregular heartbeat.
- Loss of Appetite and Nausea: CKD can lead to a metallic taste in the mouth, loss of appetite, and nausea, which can contribute to weight loss.
It’s important to note that CKD often progresses slowly, and you may not experience symptoms until the disease has reached advanced stages. Regular check-ups and monitoring of kidney function through blood and urine tests are crucial for early detection and management of CKD. These symptoms are different than complications of kidney disease; this can occur because of the disease itself.
Complications of chronic kidney disease
Because the kidneys have many roles in the body, complications of chronic kidney disease can occur. Let’s take a look at some.
Gout: Gout is a type of arthritis that can occur as a complication of CKD. In CKD, the kidneys may not effectively remove uric acid from the body. This can lead to the accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints, causing sudden and severe joint pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Anemia: Anemia is a common complication of CKD. As kidney function declines, the production of erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production, decreases. This results in a shortage of red blood cells, leading to anemia. Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and difficulty concentrating.
Heart Disease: CKD increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Kidney dysfunction can lead to fluid retention, high blood pressure, and electrolyte imbalances, all of which strain the heart. Additionally, individuals with CKD are at a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and heart failure.
Conditions associated with kidney disease
If left untreated, kidney disease can lead to other health conditions. Nutrition plays a role in preventing these. But let’s first take a look at some conditions associated with kidney disease.
Diabetes: Diabetes is one of the leading causes of CKD. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys, impairing their ability to filter waste products and excess fluid from the bloodstream. This can eventually lead to kidney damage and CKD. This condition is often referred to as diabetic nephropathy.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Hypertension is both a cause and a consequence of CKD. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, making it harder for them to function properly. Conversely, CKD can cause an increase in blood pressure because the kidneys play a crucial role in regulating blood pressure. Controlling hypertension is essential in managing CKD and preventing its progression.
Eye Complications: CKD can have effects on the eyes, and eye problems can be both a cause and a complication of CKD. Some CKD-related eye complications include:
- Diabetic Retinopathy: For individuals with both CKD and diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is a significant concern. It’s a condition where high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina, potentially leading to vision problems and blindness.
- Hypertensive Retinopathy: High blood pressure, often associated with CKD, can also damage the blood vessels in the retina, leading to hypertensive retinopathy, which can affect vision.
- Uremic Retinopathy: In advanced stages of CKD (especially in cases of untreated or severe CKD), changes in the small blood vessels of the eyes can occur, leading to uremic retinopathy, which can impact vision.
Nutrition strategies to prevent complications of chronic kidney disease
Preventing the progression of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and managing its complications involves a multifaceted approach that includes nutrition, medication adherence, and regular monitoring. Here are some tips to help prevent CKD progression and maintain kidney health:
1. Monitor Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for CKD. Keep your blood pressure under control through lifestyle changes, medications prescribed by your healthcare provider, and regular blood pressure monitoring at home or at a healthcare facility.
2. Manage Blood Sugar (if you have diabetes): If you have diabetes, it’s crucial to control your blood sugar levels. Follow your diabetes management plan, which may include medication, insulin, dietary modifications, and regular blood sugar monitoring.
3. Follow a Kidney-Friendly Diet: Nutrition plays a vital role in managing CKD. Consult with a registered dietitian experienced in renal nutrition for a personalized diet plan. Generally, a kidney-friendly diet may include:
- Follow a low sodium diet.
- Controlled protein consumption.
- Monitoring phosphorus and potassium intake depending on your blood values.
- Reducing saturated and trans fats.
4. Medication Adherence: Take prescribed medications as directed by your healthcare provider. This may include medications to control blood pressure, manage diabetes, lower cholesterol, and manage specific kidney-related conditions.
5. Stay Hydrated: Maintain proper hydration, but be cautious not to over hydrate, especially if your healthcare provider recommends fluid restrictions. Monitoring fluid intake is essential, as excessive fluid can lead to fluid overload and strain on the kidneys.
6. Get Regular Check-ups: Attend regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare team. These appointments may include blood pressure checks, kidney function tests, and monitoring for related conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
7. Educate Yourself: Learn about CKD and its management. Knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions about your health and adhere to treatment plans.
Looking to reduce complications of chronic kidney disease?
Remember that the management of CKD is highly individualized, and your healthcare provider and registered dietitian will tailor recommendations to your specific needs and stage of CKD. Adhering to their guidance is crucial for maintaining kidney health and preventing the progression of CKD. If you’re looking for support start with Kidney Nutrition Fast Track to help you manage your CKD.
This article was written by Natasha Arabian, Nutrition Student Volunteer. This article was reviewed by Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN.