Women: Fundamental facts to know about chronic kidney disease

kidney problems
kidney problems

Never take kidney health for granted. And for women, understanding chronic kidney disease (CKD) is essential as they often face specific challenges associated with this medical condition. One in ten women will be affected with chronic kidney disease and is the eighth leading cause of death for women resulting in 600,000 deaths each year. Worldwide, more than 195 million women will be diagnosed with this disease. Taking care of your kidneys is important. For women, learning basic facts about chronic kidney disease improves their chance of avoiding being diagnosed with it.

What is chronic kidney disease?

The kidneys perform important functions such as filtering the blood to remove waste and fluid to make urine. The kidneys are also necessary for controlling blood pressure, making red blood cells, and for maintaining the health of our bones.

Chronic kidney disease is a gradual loss of kidney function inhibiting healthy kidneys to perform their jobs. In the early stages, there are often no symptoms. But as kidney functioning weakens and the disease progresses to an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes, and wastes build up in the body.  If left untreated, the disease can progress to end-stage kidney failure requiring either kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Why are women more likely to be diagnosed with chronic kidney disease?

Globally, there’s a tendency for women to develop chronic kidney disease at higher rates than men. Women may have a greater lack of awareness of the disease and not know the signs and symptoms it. Women also have a higher risk of lupus and kidney infections, both of which can damage organs like the kidneys increasing the development of CKD.

What signs and symptoms should women be aware of?

In the early stages of CKD, there are often no symptoms. More noticeable or severe symptoms usually appear as the disease advances to later stages. Any woman having the following symptoms possibly indicating CKD should inform her doctor:

  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Poor or reduced appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Urinating more frequently, especially during the night
  • Puffiness around the eyes

Women with any of these symptoms should consider getting tested for CKD. Early detection and treatment are best for catching it at an early stage helping slow down the progression. If kidney disease progresses, it can lead to kidney failure.

Are there certain women at a greater risk for developing chronic kidney disease?

Yes, women with the following risk factors should particularly pay attention to their kidney health as they are at an increased risk:

  • Women with a family history of chronic kidney disease or kidney failure
  • Women who have diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease
  • Women who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or American Indian
  • Women over the age of 60

The development of CKD may also be attributed to pregnancy. Pregnant women are at risk for acute kidney injury which is a sudden loss of kidney function. Women, who are obese and have high blood pressure, are at risk for preeclampsia during pregnancy which can lead to acute kidney injury. Women who’ve had acute kidney injury will have a higher risk of developing CKD later in life.

If a woman has CKD, what steps can she take to manage it? 

Fortunately, CKD is manageable when caught early and when a treatment plan is followed. The first step is finding a knowledgeable doctor in CKD to help women understand the disease controlling its progression as best possible. Working together to come up with a treatment plan helps build trust and better compliance.

Other steps include taking any medications prescribed for CKD and managing other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Working with a registered dietitian on an overall healthy lifestyle by choosing healthy foods and keeping a close eye on certain nutrients is vital. For instance, when kidneys are not working well, consuming too much sodium may lead to fluid buildup raising blood pressure affecting the heart. Kidney disease can also raise the level of certain minerals in the blood also causing heart issues. A dietitian can help devise a meal plan making it easier to know what foods to eat and which foods to avoid.

Other necessary steps to manage CKD include managing stress and becoming physically active based on your physical abilities or limitations.

Women: Fundamental facts to know about chronic kidney disease
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi