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Managing Chronic Kidney Disease

Managing Kidney Disease

Complications of chronic kidney disease and tips that may help

The kidneys make and release hormones and balance the minerals in the blood. When the kidneys stop working, most people develop conditions that affect the blood, bones, nerves, and skin. These complications can range from uncomfortable to damaging and potentially even life-threatening. Managing these complications may help prevent or slow further damage to your kidneys and help you stay as healthy as possible. Learn how you and your doctor can work together to manage these complications.

Anemia

With kidney disease, your kidneys make less of a hormone called erythropoietin, which tells your bone marrow to make red blood cells. This can lead to anemia—a decrease in your red blood cell count. Anemia can make you feel tired and can contribute to heart problems.

TIP: Boost your red blood cell count

Your doctor might choose to treat your anemia with a synthetic version of erythropoietin as well as iron supplements.

High Blood Pressure

Healthy kidneys create renin, an enzyme that helps control blood pressure. When kidney function decreases, the kidneys will make less renin, which could lead to uncontrolled high blood pressure—and cause even more kidney damage.

TIP: Keep your blood pressure in check

Follow your doctors instructions to control  your high blood pressure, including taking your medication, adjusting your diet and including exercise as part of your routine.

Bone Disease

Phosphorus, a mineral in most foods we eat, is removed from your body by healthy kidneys. When your kidneys do not work well, phosphorus builds up—and that causes a loss of calcium from your bones. Over time, this can weaken your bones. 

TIP: Build strong bones

To prevent calcium loss in your bones, your doctor may recommend:

  • Calcium supplements.
  • Vitamin D supplements (pills or injections).
  • Lowering the phosphorus in your diet.
  • Taking a phosphate binder to reduce the amount of phosphorus in your diet.
  • Starting a doctor-approved exercise routine.

Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps, especially leg cramps, are common in people with kidney disease. These symptoms are thought to be caused by an imbalance of fluids and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, or chloride) in your body.

Tip: Stay comfortable

  • Stretch and massage the muscle that is cramping (leg cramps are most common).
  • Wear comfortable shoes.

Itching

Itching can be due to dry skin (caused by less fluid intake or other reasons) or high levels of phosphorus in your blood. Your doctor will work with you to try to find out why you are itching.

Tip: Keep a watch on phosphorus

  • Lotions for dry skin (caused by less fluid intake).
  • Prescription for a phosphate binder that pulls extra phosphorus out of your food (high levels of phosphorus can cause itching).

Get a quick guide to learn about the amount of phosphorus in common foods.

Download Guide

Content developed with the help of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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