About Kidney Disease

What Kidneys Do

Your kidneys are a vital organ in your body, much like the heart or lungs. You need kidney function in order to survive. Your kidneys:

  • Act largely as a filtering system for the body.
  • Regulate the composition of the blood.
  • Keep the volume of water and salt in the body constant.
  • Remove wastes from the body.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Stimulate the making of red blood cells.
  • Maintain calcium, phosphate and Vitamin D levels, to preserve bone health.

Understanding Kidney Disease

As Ontario’s population continues to grow and age, and the prevalence of diabetes and vascular disease increases, the prevalence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is also projected to increase. Kidney disease affects more than 40,000 people and their families in Canada.

Chronic Kidney Disease

A diagnosis of chronic kidney disease (CKD) means the kidneys have not been working properly to eliminate wastes and excess fluids from the body for at least 3 months. Often, this is caused by diseases that attack and damage the kidneys' filters (nephrons). CKD can progress for as short as several months to as long as 25–50 years. Hypertension is a risk factor for progression of existing chronic kidney disease.

Who is at risk for chronic kidney disease?

  • People with diabetes mellitus; 
  • People with family history of chronic kidney disease; 
  • People older than 60 years; 
  • People of certain racial or ethnic status. Members of certain ethnic groups are also at high risk because of the greater incidence of diabetes. These include people of First Nations, Inuit and Métis, Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, African/Afro-Caribbean and Hispanic origin. 

What causes CKD?

CKD is caused by many different disease processes. Some involve only the kidney, while some involve the kidney as part of another systemic disease. CKD also can result from an obstruction or injury, and from drugs, such as cancer chemotherapies, anti-rejection drugs, and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs.

Primary Kidney Diseases

  • glomerulonephritis/glomerulosclerosis, interstitial nephritis
  • renal-limited vasculitis

Other Conditions

  • Diabetes, types 1 and 2 Lupus and other collagen vascular diseases;
  • Vascular diseases Infections (Hepatitis B and C, HIV, post-streptococcal disease, e-coli) Cancers (multiple myeloma, lymphoma, leukemia, breast and bowel tumours);
  • Hereditary conditions, such as Alport’s Syndrome and Adult Polycystic Kidney Disease (APKD).

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

"In the beginning I had a lot of signs and symptoms" YouTube video

"I didn’t have any signs or symptoms" YouTube video

There are many symptoms that people may experience when their kidneys are not working properly. If you experience some of these symptoms, it is important to share this information with your Nephrologist and interprofessional team. You are the best provider of information on how you are feeling. Some people choose to keep a journal at home to track the different symptoms they experience between CKD clinic visits, as it can sometimes be difficult to remember how you were feeling two months ago, as compared to today. Please be aware that not every person with CKD experiences every symptom on this list, some people tell their nephrologist they are not experiencing any symptoms at all.

  • Fatigue
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restless legs
  • Itching
  • Constipation or Diarrhea
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Puffiness around the eyes, hands or feet
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

People often ask, in CKD clinic visits, ‘what symptoms will I experience that will let me know it is time for me to start Dialysis?’ Once again, this is unique to each individual. People often tell us they feel like they have a stomach flu that just won’t go away – such as no energy, no appetite, nausea or vomiting after eating, shortness of breath. If you find that you are experiencing these symptoms, please contact your Nephrologist to arrange to be seen by him or her.