• The health of your kidneys affects all your vital organs.
  • Left untreated, anemia and high blood pressure can worsen kidney function and contribute to heart disease and increased mortality.
  • Many health complications can be treated and managed before they become life threatening.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive illness. You may not have many related complications at first. But they can become more prevalent and severe as the condition advances.

Read on as we explore some potential complications of CKD and how they’re managed over time.

Kidney function affects your overall health in a big way. When your kidneys aren’t working well, it can lead to complications in other areas of your body.

Some potential concerns are:

  • Anemia. This happens when your kidneys don’t make enough erythropoietin (EPO), which affects their ability to make red blood cells. You may also have anemia due to low levels of iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid. Anemia can deprive vital organs and tissues of oxygen.
  • Bone weakness. When your kidneys aren’t working well, it can lead to low calcium and high phosphorus levels (hyperphosphatemia), weakening your bones. This increases the risk of bone fractures.
  • Fluid retention. This is when your body hangs on to excess fluids. This can lead to swelling of the limbs (edema), high blood pressure, or fluid in the lungs.
  • Gout. This is a type of arthritis caused by buildup of uric acid in your joints. Uric acid is filtered through the kidneys, linking the two conditions.
  • Heart disease. This affects your heart or blood vessels. When your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, it can lead to heart concerns.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension). This happens when the force of the blood pumping through your blood vessels is too high. Hypertension can lead to worsening kidney function, which leads to fluid retention and worsening hypertension.
  • Hyperkalemia. This is a sudden rise in potassium levels that may affect heart function.
  • Metabolic acidosis. When there’s too much acid in your bodily fluids that your kidneys don’t filter out, it disturbs the pH balance. This can worsen kidney disease and lead to issues like bone or muscle loss, as well as endocrine disorders.
  • Uremia. This is a buildup of waste products in your blood, signaling kidney damage. It can cause a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, restless legs, and sleep disturbances.

Complications tend to occur more frequently and with greater severity as kidney disease progresses. Advanced kidney disease can lead to poor quality of life and increased morbidity and mortality.

Some of the long-term complications are:

  • Weakened immune system. This makes you more susceptible to infection and illness.
  • Kidney failure. This requires dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival.
  • Heart disease. This is a leading cause of mortality in people with kidney disease, particularly those on dialysis, according to 2017 research.

People with CKD have an increased risk of cerebrovascular disorders, such as stroke.

Those with end stage kidney disease or on dialysis are more likely to have:

  • cognitive impairment
  • dementia
  • stroke, including ischemic, hemorrhagic, or silent strokes
  • poor long-term prognosis after a stroke
  • seizures

However, neurological complications may occur in any stage of CKD.

Depression is a common disorder among people living with a chronic condition like CKD.

Research in a 2017 review shows that people with CKD who are not on dialysis experience depression at three times the rate of the general population. But depression is also common for people on dialysis.

Depression may be due to psychosocial and biologic changes that go along with dialysis. Depression in CKD is associated with:

  • poor quality of life
  • adverse medical outcomes
  • increased mortality

Other secondary complications can include:

  • skin infections from overly dry skin and scratching due to itching
  • joint, bone, and muscle pain
  • nerve damage
  • buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • liver failure

At any stage of CKD, it’s important to work closely with your doctor.

There’s no cure for CKD. But you can slow its progression and lower your chances of developing related health complications.

For example, managing high blood pressure and anemia can decrease the risk of heart complications.

Getting routine blood work and urinalyses will help catch health issues early on. Your doctor will monitor kidney function by keeping an eye on your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and urine albumin.

Your healthcare team can also help you manage other health concerns, like diabetes and cholesterol levels, as well as your weight.

Other things you can do to help prevent complications are:

  • Meet with a dietitian to make sure your nutritional needs are being met.
  • Get some physical activity every day.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Don’t smoke or stop smoking, if you do.
  • Learn coping mechanisms to deal with stress, anxiety, or depression. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional or support group for help.
  • Take prescribed medications as directed.
  • Be cautious with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can hurt your kidneys. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking new OTC medications.

Treating CKD complications can help improve related symptoms and overall quality of life. Left untreated, certain complications of CKD may become life threatening.

If you have anemia, tissues throughout your body are starved for oxygen. This can damage vital organs like your heart and brain. It can also worsen kidney function.

Treatment for anemia can include:

  • erythropoiesis-stimulating agents, which tell your body to produce more red blood cells
  • iron supplements
  • blood transfusions

High blood pressure is one of the most destructive complications of CKD. It can lead to the development of heart disease and result in a decline in kidney function.

Treatment may include diet and exercise changes as well as prescription medications to lower blood pressure.

Other treatments depend on specific symptoms and what’s causing them. If you progress to kidney failure, you’ll need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

When you have CKD, it’s important to see your doctor regularly. Between scheduled visits, contact your doctor if you have new or worsening symptoms.

Seek immediate medical care if you experience:

  • trouble breathing
  • chest pain or pressure
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat

These may be signs of a serious, life threatening complication that requires immediate attention.

There are many potential complications of CKD. It’s important to report new or worsening symptoms to your doctor right away.

Many complications of CKD can be treated and managed before they become life threatening.