Kidney disease often has no symptoms, so diagnosis can be a shock. You may worry that your kidney disease will worsen and you'll end up on dialysis.
In fact, the outlook in most cases is more reassuring. Kidney disease is common and usually stable (not going to get worse). Fewer than 1 in 20 people with the condition ever have kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
People who have just found out they have kidney disease should try not to panic," says Tim Statham of the National Kidney Federation (NKF). "
A poor kidney function does not necessarily lead to kidney failure. There may be a perfectly normal cause, such as your age. As with other organs, kidney function naturally slows down as you get older."
"Hearing that you have kidney disease can be quite challenging," adds Fiona Loud of the British Kidney Patient Association. "It is a good idea to ask your GP for advice about how it could affect you and for guidance on looking after your kidneys from now on."
Lifestyle tips for kidney disease
Although your kidney disease is unlikely to get worse or cause you serious day-to-day problems, it is a warning about your future health. That's because kidney disease, even if it's mild and stable, automatically puts you at a higher than average risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you have kidney disease, you'll benefit from improving your lifestyle and looking after your heart even more than the general population. The NHS will support and advise you, and you can help yourself by doing the following:
- Lose any excess weight and exercise regularly (at least 150 minutes each week for the average adult). Find out if you are a healthy weight using this tool to check your BMI. Read more about how to lose weight.
- Stop smoking. Read more about how the NHS can help you stop smoking.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you have severe kidney disease, a dietitian will advise if you need to follow a special diet. Read about how to achieve a balanced diet.
- Reduce the salt in your diet to help keep your blood pressure down, and avoid salt substitutes, too. Read more about how to cut down on salt.
- Take extra care to keep your blood pressure and blood sugar at normal levels if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Drink water as normal when you feel you want to, unless you've been advised otherwise by your doctor or dietitian. There's no evidence that drinking extra water or fluids will help if you have kidney disease. Read more about how much water you should drink.
Here's more information on how to look after yourself if you have kidney disease.
Vaccinations and kidney disease
It's important that you are vaccinated against:
- flu (every year)
- pneumonia (also called the pneumo jab)
Kidney disease puts you at higher risk of catching flu. There's also a greater chance if you catch flu that it will lead to more serious illnesses, including bronchitis and pneumonia.
Flu and pneumonia vaccinations are free from your local GP surgery for kidney disease patients. The flu jab is available each autumn from September. The pneumo jab is usually only needed once, but some people need booster doses every five years.
Read more about the flu jab.
Read more about the pneumo jab.
If you have kidney failure, you should be vaccinated against hepatitis B before you start dialysis or have a kidney transplant.
Read more about the hepatitis B vaccination.
Medicines and kidney disease
If you have kidney disease, it's important to take care with pharmacy medicines as some can be potentially harmful. Read more about pharmacy remedies and kidney disease.
Kidney problems are made worse by high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. If you also have either of these conditions, your doctor will probably prescribe long-term daily tablets to prevent kidney damage.
Blood pressure-lowering tablets called ACE inhibitors are usually prescribed. These protect the kidneys, but can sometimes cause a cough. If that happens, a similar group of tablets known as angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can be used.
Although both ACE inhibitors and ARBs protect your kidneys, they can cause problems if you are dehydrated, so you should ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice if you have diarrhoea and vomiting.
Because kidney disease puts you at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), your doctor may offer you medicines called statins. Statins lower the level of cholesterol in the blood, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you have kidney disease, your doctor may alter the doses of medicines you are taking for other conditions. They may also advise that you temporarily stop taking some of your prescribed medicines if you become unwell with diarrhoea, vomiting or a fever. That's to avoid the risk of further dehydration or damage to your kidneys.
However, you should never stop taking any prescribed medicines without checking with a doctor or pharmacist first. It's important to restart your medicines once you are better.
Severe kidney disease
Sometimes it's not possible to stop kidney disease getting worse. If your kidney disease is already severe or in decline, your GP will refer you to a hospital-based kidney specialist team, who will work out a treatment plan for you.
This may include following a special diet and taking additional medicines, such as iron treatment to prevent anaemia, and vitamin D supplements for healthy bones and muscles.
The hospital team of doctors, nurses, dietitians, social workers and pharmacists will help you prepare for the possibility of going on to dialysis or having a kidney transplant.