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What Is Kidney Disease & How to Care for a Loved One with Kidney Disease

Quick Answer

Kidney disease is a chronic illness affecting millions of people in the U.S. Because of its prevalence, many families and friends step in as caregivers for loved ones with kidney disease. This article will discuss what kidney disease is, how it's treated, and how you can help a loved one struggling with the disease.

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Detailed Answer

Kidney disease, also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD), is one of the leading underlying causes of death in the U.S. It affects 35.5 million Americans, or 1 in 7 people.

Kidney disease poses significant challenges for affected individuals and their families, impacting both their physical and emotional health. Understanding the complexities of this condition is crucial for those affected and their caregivers. 

In this article, we'll expand on the intricacies of kidney disease, offering insights into its nature and progression. From recognizing the symptoms to exploring treatment strategies and providing support for caregivers, this guide aims to empower individuals and families facing the challenges of kidney disease. 

If you already know you need professional caregiving support for kidney disease, you can use LTC News's Long-Term Care Directory tool to explore long-term care options near you. Our directory contains information on long-term care facilities and services from all around the country so you can compare the options and find what works best for you or your loved one. 


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What Is Kidney Disease?

The first step to understanding kidney disease is understanding how kidneys should normally function. 

Your kidneys filter waste, toxins, and excess fluid from your body. They filter all your body's blood every 30 minutes when working properly. Kidneys also help control blood pressure, bone health, red blood cells, and overall blood chemistry. 

Kidney disease develops when an individual's kidneys stop functioning normally. Doctors use an Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) and a Urine Albumin-Creatinine Ratio (uACR) test to measure kidney damage. These tests determine how well your kidneys are filtering toxins out of your body. 

A higher score is better for the eGFR test. A score of 90 or above indicates healthy kidneys, while scores between 60-89 signal potential early kidney disease, and those falling between 15-59 suggest kidney disease. Scores below 15 may indicate kidney failure.

A lower score is better for the uACR test. Anything above 30 may indicate a risk of kidney damage. Anything above 300 indicates a risk for kidney failure. 

Kidney disease is a wide spectrum, from those with barely any symptoms or complications to those with progressed kidney disease experiencing kidney failure. 

Individuals with kidney disease and kidney damage aren't able to filter toxins as efficiently anymore. This can lead to excess fluid or waste remaining in the body. Prolonged poor function can lead to more serious health issues. 

While kidney disease can affect anyone at any stage of life, certain risk factors elevate susceptibility. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco use, family history of kidney disorders, heart disease, advanced age (over 60), and underlying health conditions such as autoimmune disorders.

Stages of Kidney Disease

As mentioned before, kidney disease is a wide spectrum. Not all cases of kidney disease are the same. There are five stages of kidney disease. 

In the first stages, kidney damage may be mild with little to no symptoms. In contrast, late-stage kidney disease can lead to severe medical conditions or even death. 

Below, we'll discuss the different stages of kidney disease, the common symptoms at each stage, and how treatment works during each stage. 

Stage 1 and 2: Early Stages of Kidney Disease

In the first stage of kidney disease, an individual's eGFR would be 90 or higher; their uACR would be 30 or higher, combined with kidney damage. Kidney damage is mild during this stage and may have no recognizable symptoms. Treatment usually focuses on slowing the disease's progression by targeting other contributing conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. 

In the second stage of kidney disease, an individual's eGFR would be in the 60-89 range, paired with kidney damage. During this stage, there is still mild kidney damage; however, the kidneys may start to malfunction. 

Treatment is very similar to the first stage, except doctors may focus more on encouraging healthier lifestyle choices such as quitting cigarettes, getting good sleep, eating healthier, and exercising on top of the regular diabetic and blood pressure treatment strategies.  

Stage 3a and 3b: Mild to Moderate Kidney Disease 

The third stage of kidney disease is broken up into two, called 3a and 3b. In stage 3a, an individual's eGFR is between 45-59. During the 3a stage, kidney damage is moderate and may start causing symptoms like tiredness, nausea, loss of appetite, or unexplained weight loss. 

In stage 3b, an individual would have an eGFR of 30-44, and kidney damage may be moderate to severe. Symptoms include those mentioned above, as well as trouble concentrating, aches, peripheral neuropathy, and shortness of breath. 

Treatment during stages 3a and 3b includes treating the underlying causes and adding medications or supplements to counteract the effects of kidney damage. 

Stage 4: Moderate or Severe Kidney Disease

In the fourth stage of kidney disease, individuals would have an eGFR between 15-29. At this stage, kidney damage is moderate to severe, with excessive loss of kidney function. Symptoms may become more severe, leading to bone diseases or anemia. Treatment targets things similar to stage three and may also focus on mitigating kidney disease symptoms. 

Stage 5: Loss of Kidney Function

During stage five, an individual's eGFR would be less than 15. At this stage, the kidneys are not functioning well enough to keep the individual healthy.  

Symptoms can become severe at this stage, including psychosis, vomiting, restlessness, pain, seizures, chest pain, diarrhea, bruising, and much more. 

Treatments for stage five kidney disease include dialysis. Dialysis is a way of removing excess toxins during kidney failure. Other treatments may involve kidney transplants. 

How Do You Know If You Have Kidney Disease?

The only way to know for sure if you have kidney disease is to get tested using eGFR and uACR tests. Many people live with kidney disease without knowing due to the lack of symptoms during the early stages of the disease. In fact, it’s estimated about 90% of people with kidney disease do not know they have it

The symptoms of early and middle stages of kidney disease often blend in with other conditions – they're non-specific, which makes diagnosing kidney disease without proper testing incredibly difficult.

You may be more likely to develop kidney disease if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of kidney disease. It's estimated that 1 in 3 people with diabetes and 1 in 5 people with high blood pressure also have kidney disease

How To Care For A Loved One With Kidney Disease?

It's difficult to manage kidney disease alone. Oftentimes, family and friends step in as informal caregivers to help their loved ones with kidney disease. The value of help from caregivers is immeasurable, as the progression of kidney disease can be slowed if diagnosed and treated early.

However, caring for a loved one can be challenging, especially if you don't know where to start. Here are a few ways you can be there for someone you love:

  • Learn about kidney function and kidney disease. One of the best ways to show your support is to educate yourself about what the kidneys do, what symptoms look like, and the treatment plans involved with kidney disease. This takes the pressure off of your loved one to navigate their condition alone and instead helps you become a team to tackle the disease together. 

  • Offer support in a way that works for them. Make sure your loved one knows you're there for them in whatever way they need. Discuss things you can do to make their life easier or the caretaking responsibilities you're ready to take on. 

  • Implement lifestyle changes with them. It's easy to tell your loved one they need to quit smoking, start exercising, and eat healthy. But it's a lot harder to commit to that change with them. By going through this journey together, you'll help motivate your loved one to commit to their lifestyle changes and be able to empathize with their struggles more than ever before. 

  • Help them get in touch with support groups. Connecting with individuals and families who are going through or have gone through the same things can have an incredible impact. These people may have advice for you or be able to offer the moral and emotional support needed to live a fulfilling life with kidney disease. 

  • Help your loved one manage their care and treatment plan. Medications and lifestyle changes can be hard to keep track of alone, especially for older adults who are used to their routines. Whether it's reminding them to check their blood sugar or helping them organize their medications, every bit counts. 

How To Manage Burnout As A Caregiver

Caring for our loved ones can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also feel physically and emotionally taxing. Juggling caregiving responsibilities with personal needs often leaves little time for self-care, leading to prolonged stress and what's known as caregiver burnout.

Caregiver burnout can manifest as irritability and exhaustion. Over time, these symptoms can compound, leading to more serious problems like feelings of hopelessness or depression. 

Fortunately, there are strategies to manage caregiver burnout. These options include free programs and support groups specifically designed for caregivers. Support groups offer invaluable opportunities to connect with others facing similar challenges and share experiences.

In addition, options like respite care can provide a much-needed break from caregiving. Respite care services temporarily assume caregiving duties, allowing caregivers to rest and prioritize their well-being. 

RELATED: Avoiding Caregiver Burnout. Essential for Health and Well-Being

Can You Get Long-Term Care Insurance with Kidney Disease?

Long-Term Care Insurance is a great way to protect yourself from the future cost of long-term care, especially when it comes to treating chronic conditions like kidney disease. Qualifying for Long-Term Care Insurance with kidney disease can be challenging, but it's not impossible. Here's a breakdown.

Insurance companies choose whether or not to insure new applicants based on how risky each applicant is to insure. Individuals with chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, are riskier to insure. However, individuals with kidney disease fall on a wide spectrum, ranging from mild damage to kidney failure. 

Your or your loved one's ability to get Long-Term Care Insurance will depend on the severity of kidney disease. Anyone experiencing a later stage of kidney disease or with a history of end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis may be declined coverage or offered a policy with limitations. 

Outside of kidney disease, your ability to qualify also depends on your overall health and the underwriting within the insurance company. Individuals who are otherwise healthy and manage their kidney disease well will have an easier time qualifying for coverage than those with other chronic health conditions. 

Each Long-Term Care Insurance company works differently and uses a different set of criteria to evaluate new applicants. Some companies may have more lenient policies than others.

To ensure you have the best chance of getting Long-Term Care Insurance with kidney disease, you may want to meet with a Long-Term Care Insurance specialist. These experts can answer your detailed and complicated questions with personalized recommendations geared towards making LTC Insurance as easy of a journey as ever. 

If Long-Term Care Insurance isn't an option, there are other coverage plans, such as short-term care insurance or asset-based long-term care planning. These policies tend to have more lenient health requirements than traditional Long-Term Care Insurance. 

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Kidney Disease and Caregiving

The bottom line is kidney disease doesn't have to be a battle alone. Family and professional caregivers are here to help cope with the disease. 

Kidney disease is a wide spectrum, ranging from mild symptoms and dysfunction all the way to kidney failure. It's important to manage the risks associated with kidney disease to ensure good health.  

Professional caregivers can be found on LTC News's Long-Term Care Directory. This tool can help you find long-term care providers and facilities near you so you can help manage the symptoms and treatment strategies that come along with kidney disease. 


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For more information on long-term care, you can also read our other resources:

  • How to Care for a Loved One With Diabetes – Diabetes is a major risk factor for developing kidney disease. Learning how to manage and care for a loved one with diabetes is essential to preventing and coping with kidney disease. 

  • Caregiving 101: Types of Caregiving and Selecting a Caregiver – If you're considering looking for professional care for yourself or your loved one for kidney disease, then this is an essential resource. This article can help you determine what type of caregiver you or your loved one may need.

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