Kidney Disease

Ninety percent of the material on this blog is about living with and preventing kidney disease.  To stay in the loop, here's your Love in the Time of Transplant cheat sheet!

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD):  a blanket term for the various types of diseases that affect the kidneys, including the one I was diagnosed with when I was 16 years old (see FSGS).  CKD damages the way the kidneys filter toxins and waste out of your blood.  When your kidneys are working, you pee out this extra waste.  When they're not working, the waste stays in your body, floats around in your blood, makes you really REALLY sick, and can cause major problems with the rest of your organs, including your heart.  CKD can be caused by high-blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are preventable, or genetics.

Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS):  a type of chronic kidney disease that stands for scarring of some of the filters (glomeruli) in your kidneys.  To explain it the way a doctor explained it to me:  the filters in your kidneys are attacked, perhaps from an infection or another disease.  Once the attack is over, the filters are wounded and end up covered in scar tissue.  Think of the way a cut on your arm looks, after it's healed.  The skin on your arm never looks the same, and it might even be a little numb, and no hair really grows on it.  That's basically what happens to the glomeruli when you have FSGS, they never really quite work the same because of the scar tissue.  They become almost like dead pieces of skin.   The filters that aren't scarred end up having to do the rest of the work, but your kidneys never really quite function the same.  And over time, FSGS can end up developing into global glomerulosclerosis, where all or most of the filters are covered in scar tissue.  When this happens, the kidney function drops to under 20 percent and either a new kidney or dialysis is needed to keep the patient alive.  There is no cure for FSGS.  There are currently studies underway to see if the scarring is reversible.  

End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD):  when kidney function drops to below 15 percent.  My doctors declared me in ESRD when my kidney function fell to about 8 percent.  In ESRD, patients can only survive if they receive a kidney transplant or live on dialysis.  

Dialysis:  there are two types of dialysis:  hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.  Both serve to perform the function of kidneys, which is to remove waste and toxins from the blood, prevent chemical imbalances, and lower blood pressure. Hemodialysis is also known as "in center" dialysis because patients have to go to a dialysis center where their blood is cleaned by machines.  Peritoneal dialysis is known as "home" dialysis, because patients can do it at home or at work.  This process involved the insertion of a plastic tube into the peritoneal lining, below the stomach. When waste doesn't leave the body in the form of urine, it can usually build up in the peritoneal lining.  Peritoneal dialysis serves to remove all that liquid build up from the body.  

Kidney Transplant:  a three to six hour operation, where a patient with ESRD received a kidney from another person, a donor.  A successful kidney transplant results in bringing the kidney function back to normal levels.  The new kidney takes over all the work from the old, failing kidneys.

Anti-Rejection Meds:  medications that prevent your body from rejecting your new kidney.  I like to think of them as a cloaking device.  These medications trick the body into thinking that the transplanted kidney is just like the rest of your organs:  organs that came with your body when you were born.  Anytime you stop taking these medications, your body could decide to attack the foreign organ.  

Creatinine: a chemical waste that is removed from the blood stream by the kidneys.  Doctors measure this level as a way to determine how well the kidneys are working.  A creatinine level of 0.5 to 1.3 is considered normal. 

Low-Sodium:  a diet recommended for kidney disease patients and the general public, really.  Most processed foods have a ton of added salt, and most of it is unnecessary.   Following a low sodium diet (either no added salt or less than 2,000 milligrams a day) can help lower your blood pressure and your risk for a number of diseases, including kidney disease.