Depending on the underlying cause, some types of kidney disease can be treated. Often, though, chronic kidney disease has no cure. In general, treatment consists of measures to help control signs and symptoms, reduce complications, and slow progression of the disease. If your kidneys become severely damaged, you may need treatment for end-stage kidney disease.
Treating the cause
Your doctor will work to slow or control the cause of your kidney disease. Treatment options vary, depending on the cause. But kidney damage can continue to worsen even when an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, has been controlled.
Kidney disease complications can be controlled to make you more comfortable. Treatments may include:
- High blood pressure medications. People with kidney disease may experience worsening high blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend medications to lower your blood pressure — commonly angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers — and to preserve kidney function. High blood pressure medications can initially decrease kidney function and change electrolyte levels, so you may need frequent blood tests to monitor your condition. Your doctor will likely also recommend a water pill (diuretic) and a low-salt diet.
- Medications to lower cholesterol levels. Your doctor may recommend medications called statins to lower your cholesterol. People with chronic kidney disease often experience high levels of bad cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Medications to treat anemia. In certain situations, your doctor may recommend supplements of the hormone erythropoietin (uh-rith-roe-POI-uh-tin), sometimes with added iron. Erythropoietin supplements aid in production of more red blood cells, which may relieve fatigue and weakness associated with anemia.
- Medications to relieve swelling. People with chronic kidney disease may retain fluids. This can lead to swelling in the legs, as well as high blood pressure. Medications called diuretics can help maintain the balance of fluids in your body.
- Medications to protect your bones. Your doctor may prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent weak bones and lower your risk of fracture. You may also take medication to lower the amount of phosphate in your blood, to protect your blood vessels from damage by calcium deposits (calcification).
- A lower protein diet to minimize waste products in your blood. As your body processes protein from foods, it creates waste products that your kidneys must filter from your blood. To reduce the amount of work your kidneys must do, your doctor may recommend eating less protein. Your doctor may also ask you to meet with a dietitian who can suggest ways to lower your protein intake while still eating a healthy diet.
Treatment for end-stage kidney disease
If your kidneys can't keep up with waste and fluid clearance on their own and you develop complete or near-complete kidney failure, you have end-stage kidney disease. At that point, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed.
- Dialysis. Dialysis artificially removes waste products and extra fluid from your blood when your kidneys can no longer do this. In hemodialysis, a machine filters waste and excess fluids from your blood. In peritoneal dialysis, a thin tube (catheter) inserted into your abdomen fills your abdominal cavity with a dialysis solution that absorbs waste and excess fluids. After a period of time, the dialysis solution drains from your body, carrying the waste with it.
- Kidney transplant. A kidney transplant involves surgically placing a healthy kidney from a donor into your body. Transplanted kidneys can come from deceased or living donors. You'll need to take medications for the rest of your life to keep your body from rejecting the new organ.
For some who choose not to have dialysis or a kidney transplant, a third option is to treat your kidney failure with conservative measures. However, once you have complete kidney failure, your life expectancy generally would be only a few weeks.
Jan. 30, 2015
- Goldman L, et al. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2014: 5 Books in 1. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2014. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Bope ET, et al. Conn's Current Therapy. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- About chronic kidney disease: A guide for patients and their families. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/aboutckd.cfm. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Coping effectively: A guide to living well with kidney failure. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/coping_effectively_guide.cfm. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Kidney failure: Choosing a treatment that's right for you. National Kidney & Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/choosingtreatment/index.aspx. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Kidney disease and diet. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=4294967540. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- The kidneys and how they work. National Kidney & Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/yourkidneys/. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- El-Zoghby ZM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 25, 2013.
- Hickson LJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 9, 2013.
- Rethinking drinking: Alcohol and your health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/RethinkingDrinking/Rethinking_Drinking.pdf. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed Nov. 5, 2013.
- Post R (expert opinion). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alexandria, Va. Aug. 8, 2011.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.