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Medical Information from the NKF - About Kidney Disease



Kidney disease is very common. However, less than 1 in 10 of the people with kidney disease develop failure of the kidneys requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Even though they may never develop complete kidney failure, people with kidney disease will benefit from tests to see if they are likely to develop problems in the future. If the blood pressure is high it should be treated to protect the kidneys against further damage and to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack.

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What is kidney disease?

Kidney disease is a term used by doctors to include any abnormality of the kidneys, even if there is only very slight damage. It is often called ‘chronic’ kidney disease. Chronic is a medical term that means a condition that does not get completely better in a few days. A problem with the kidneys, such as an uncomplicated urine infection, that gets better and leaves no damage, is not chronic kidney disease.

Recent research suggests that 1 in 10 of the population may have slight kidney disease. This is much commoner in the elderly than in young people. In most cases kidney disease does not cause any symptoms, and is detected because tests are abnormal. These may be urine tests for blood or protein; an X-ray or scan of the kidneys; or a blood test to measure kidney function.

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What is kidney failure?

Kidney failure is a medical term that can be confusing, because it refers to reduced kidney function, usually less than 30% of normal (or estimated kidney function of less than 30, click here for more information on the Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)). Some people with kidney failure feel perfectly well, and in some cases the kidneys can continue to work for some years without deteriorating to a serious level.

Does all kidney disease lead to kidney failure?

Most people with kidney disease have a minor problem and never develop kidney failure. However, it is common for those with kidney disease to have high blood pressure and problems with the circulation, so that some tests and ongoing treatment are required.

Overall, less than 1 in 10 of those with any type of kidney disease will develop kidney failure.

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Can kidney failure be prevented, once I have kidney disease?

The long term outlook depends on the type of kidney disease present, and the severity of this disease. These factors will have to be discussed individually with the medical team.

The NKF website contains many information areas for different kidney diseases. Some of the common ones are listed here, for those that are not here, please click here to go to a longer page of links within this website and look down the menu.

Conditions that often lead to kidney failure

Conditions that sometimes lead to kidney failure

Conditions that rarely lead to kidney failure

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Lifestyle issues for people with Kidney Disease

NKF Controlled Document No. 57: About Kidney Disease written: 29/11/2001 last reviewed: 29/11/2017