• 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.

When your kidneys aren’t working well, it can lead to complications in other areas of your body.

Potential concerns include:


Being on dialysis can increase your risk of developing anemia. Anemia happens when your kidneys don’t make enough erythropoietin (EPO). This affects their ability to make red blood cells. You may also have anemia due to low levels of:

Anemia can deprive vital organs and tissues of oxygen. If you have anemia, it can damage organs like your heart and brain. It can also worsen kidney function.

Bone weakness

CKD can lead to low calcium and high phosphorus levels (hyperphosphatemia), weakening your bones. This increases the risk of bone fractures.

You may also experience symptoms that include:

  • muscle spasms
  • mouth numbness and tingling
  • itchy skin

Fluid retention

Fluid retention happens when your body hangs on to excess fluids. This can lead to:


Gout is a type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in your joints. Uric acid is typically filtered out of your body through the kidneys. Doctors may recommend medications and dietary changes, including avoiding foods containing purines, which the body breaks down into uric acid. This can include:

  • bacon
  • turkey
  • fish
  • dried beans
  • peas

Heart disease

When your kidneys aren’t functioning well, they can’t effectively filter waste from the blood. This leads to increased fluid in your blood, which may cause high blood pressure and heart damage.

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 can cause fluid retention and worsening hypertension.


If your kidneys cannot filter out excess potassium, it can build up in your blood. Hyperkalemia is a sudden rise in potassium levels that may affect heart function.

If you have kidney disease, you may need to limit foods high in potassium.

Metabolic acidosis

When there’s too much acid in your bodily fluids that your kidneys don’t filter out, it disturbs the pH balance of your blood. This can worsen kidney disease and lead to issues like bone or muscle loss and endocrine disorders.


Uremia is a buildup of waste products in your blood. It is an indicator of severe kidney damage and often occurs in the later stages of kidney failure. It can cause a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • restless legs
  • sleep disturbances

Weakened immune system

If you have chronic kidney disease, you may be more susceptible to infection and illness. People who are immunocompromised may need to take certain precautions to avoid illnesses. These can include:

  • following vaccination recommendations
  • avoid potential exposures to illness
  • take food safety precautions
  • oral care

Kidney failure

Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are unable to filter waste effectively. When the kidneys filter less than 15% of waste from the blood, they cannot filter waste as quickly as your body produces it. This is known as end-stage kidney disease. It requires dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival.

Heart disease

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in people with kidney disease, particularly those on dialysis. Heart disease includes any disease that keeps your heart from pumping blood effectively.

Secondary hyperparathyroidism (SHPT)

You can develop hyperparathyroidism if your calcium levels get too low. It can cause symptoms that include:

  • joint swelling
  • fractures
  • bone disorders

People with CKD have an increased risk of cerebrovascular disorders like 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
  • movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease

But neurological complications may occur in any stage of CKD.

Depression is a common disorder among people with chronic conditions 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 biological 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:

At any stage of CKD, working closely with a doctor is important.

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

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

A healthcare team can also help you manage health concerns like diabetes, cholesterol, and weight.

Other things you can do to help prevent complications include:

  • Talk with a dietitian to make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Reach and maintain a moderate weight.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Avoid smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, or quit smoking, if you smoke.
  • Learn coping mechanisms to deal with stress, anxiety, or depression. A 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 harm your kidneys. Check with a 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.


Treating anemia may help reduce the risk of additional complications. Treatment can include:

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

High blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure, treatment may include:

Other complications

Other treatments depend on specific symptoms and what’s causing them.

If you progress to end-stage kidney failure, you’ll likely need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

When you have CKD, it’s essential to attend all scheduled appointments. Between visits, contact a 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 a doctor right away.

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