Many people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are able to live long lives without being unduly affected by the condition.
Although it's not possible to repair damage that has already happened to your kidneys, CKD will not necessarily get worse.
CKD only reaches an advanced stage in a small proportion of people.
But even if your condition is mild, it's important to take good care of yourself to help stop it getting worse and reduce your risk of other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease.
Looking after yourself
Take your medicine
It's very important that you take any prescribed medicine, even if you do not feel unwell. Some medicines are designed to prevent serious problems from happending in the future.
It's also useful to read the information leaflet that comes with the medicine about possible interactions with other medicines or supplements.
Check with your care team if you plan to take any painkillers or nutritional supplements. These can sometimes affect your kidneys or interfere with your medicine.
Read more about pharmacy remedies and kidney disease.
Also speak to your care team if you have any concerns about the medicine you are taking, or if you're experiencing any side effects.
Have a healthy diet
A healthy, balanced diet can help improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing further problems.
A balanced diet should include:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables – aim for at least 5 portions a day
- meals that include starchy foods, such as potatoes, wholegrain bread, rice or pasta
- some dairy or dairy alternatives
- some beans or pulses, fish, eggs, or meat as a source of protein
- low levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar
You may also be given advice about dietary changes that can specifically help with kidney disease, such as limiting the amount of potassium or phosphate in your diet.
Regular physical activity can also help improve your general health.
Do not be scared to exercise. Exercise is good for anyone with kidney disease, however severe.
Not only will it boost your energy, help you sleep, strengthen your bones, ward off depression and keep you fit, it may also reduce your risk of problems such as heart disease.
If you have mild to moderate CKD, your ability to exercise should not be reduced. You should be able to exercise as often and as vigorously as someone the same age as you with healthy kidneys.
If your condition is more advanced or you're already on dialysis, your ability to exercise is likely to be reduced and you may become breathless and tired more quickly.
But exercise is still beneficial. Start slowly and build up gradually. Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise programme.
Want to know more
- Kidney Care UK: diet, fluids and exercise
If you smoke, stopping smoking can improve your overall health and reduce your risk of many other health problems.
Limit your alcohol consumption
You may still be able to drink alcohol if you have kidney disease, but it's advisable not to exceed the recommended limits of more than 14 alcohol units a week.
Speak to your GP or care team if you find it difficult to cut down the amount of alcohol you drink.
Find out more about cutting down on alcohol.
Kidney disease can put a significant strain on your body and make you more vulnerable to infections.
You can get these vaccinations at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy that offers a vaccination service.
Regular reviews and monitoring
You'll have regular contact with your care team to monitor your condition.
These appointments may involve:
- talking about your symptoms – such as whether they're affecting your normal activities or are getting worse
- a discussion about your medicine – including whether you are experiencing any side effects
- tests to monitor your kidney function and general health
It's also a good opportunity to ask any questions you have or raise any other issues you'd like to discuss with your care team.
You may also want to help monitor your condition at home – for example, by using a home blood pressure monitor.
Contact your GP or healthcare team if your symptoms are getting worse or you develop new symptoms.
Relationships and support
Coming to terms with a condition such as CKD can put a strain on you, your family and your friends. It can be difficult to talk to people about your condition, even if they're close to you.
Learning about CKD may help you and your family understand what to expect and to feel more in control of the illness, instead of feeling that your lives are now dominated by CKD and its treatment.
Be open about how you feel, and let your family and friends know what they can do to help. However, do not feel shy about telling them that you need some time to yourself, if that is what you need.
Your GP or healthcare team can reassure you if you have questions about your CKD, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist telephone helpline operator. Your GP surgery will have information on these.
Some people find it helpful to talk to other people with CKD at a local support group or through an internet chat room.
Want to know more?
Sex and pregnancy
Having CKD can affect a sexual relationship. Some couples become closer after a diagnosis of CKD, while others find their loved ones are affected by worries about how they'll cope with the illness.
Both men and women may have issues about body image and self-esteem, and this can affect a relationship.
Try to share your feelings with your partner. If you have problems with sex that do not get better with time, speak to your care team. Treatment and support is available.
Want to know more?
- Kidney Care UK: sexual health and contraception
If you have mild to moderate kidney disease, it's unlikely your condition or its treatment will affect your chances of having children.
More advanced kidney disease may affect a woman's periods and reduce a man's sperm count, which can make it more difficult to get pregnant, although this does not mean you will not be able to have a child.
It's important to use contraception if you do not want to get pregnant.
If you do want to try for a baby, it's a good idea to speak to your healthcare team for advice first. There may be risks to mother and baby, and changes to your treatment or check-ups may be necessary.
Want to know more?
- National Kidney Federation: kidney failure and having children
Work, finances and benefits
Can I continue working?
If you're well enough, you can keep working for as long as you feel able.
Talk to your employer as soon as you feel your condition is affecting your ability to do your job so you can find a solution that suits both of you. For example, it may be possible for you to work part-time.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to help a person with a disability.
This might, where possible, include changing or modifying tasks, altering work patterns, installing special equipment, allowing time off to attend appointments, or helping with travel to work.
What happens if I can no longer work?
If you have to stop work or work part-time because of CKD, you may find it hard to cope financially.
You may be entitled to one or more of the following types of financial support:
- if you have a job but cannot work because of your illness, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer for up to 28 weeks
- if you don't have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
- if you're aged 65 or over, you may be able to get Attendance Allowance
- if you're caring for someone with CKD, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance
- you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or a low household income
Want to know more?
Holidays and insurance
If you have mild CKD or you've had a transplant, going on holiday should not pose additional health problems, whether you're staying in the UK or going abroad.
Speak to your care team before you travel, and make sure you take enough medicine with you to cover your trip and some back-up medicine in case you end up needing to stay away from home for longer than planned.
If you're on dialysis, you can still enjoy holidays if you book your treatment before you go away.
If you want to travel to another part of the UK, discuss your plans with your renal unit as early as you can so they can arrange dialysis at a unit close to your destination.
In many parts of the country, the lack of facilities restricts the freedom of patients to travel, but Kidney Care UK's Dialysis Freedom service runs a holiday dialysis "swap" scheme to help with dialysis availability in other areas.
If you're going abroad, it may be easier to arrange dialysis at short notice as some overseas centres have more facilities, although holiday destinations may get booked up early.
It's a good idea to take out holiday health insurance in addition to carrying the EHIC. Anyone with kidney disease should declare it as a pre-existing medical condition on standard insurance application forms. It may exclude you from some policies.
Want to know more?
- Kidney Care UK: travel insurance
Page last reviewed: 29 August 2019
Next review due: 29 August 2022