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Chronic Kidney Disease: Overview and Risk Factors

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), which is also known as kidney failure or renal insufficiency, is an exceedingly common disorder among older adults. Normally, the kidneys filter the blood, excrete toxins and waste, and maintain electrolyte balance. When kidney function is compromised, these actions are impaired, which can result in fatal consequences.

The majority of cases are due to long–standing diabetes mellitus and/or hypertension. These diseases damage the blood vessels of the kidneys, causing kidney dysfunction.

Few symptoms are noticeable until about 75 percent of kidney function has been lost. Initial symptoms may include fluid retention, swelling of the legs, hypertension, and anemia. As kidney function is further compromised, more severe symptoms develop, including shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, confusion, and severe itching.

Kidney disease is also a major risk factor for heart disease. Indeed, most patients with chronic kidney disease die from cardiovascular disease even before they develop advanced kidney disease.

Risk Factors

African–Americans have a significantly higher rate of kidney disease than other racial groups. This is partly due to higher rates of hypertension in this group.

Other factors associated with an increased risk include:

  • Older age
  • Family history
  • Urinary tract infections and kidney stones
  • Other medical disorders that may increase the risk of kidney damage include diabetes mellitus, hypertension, autoimmune disorders (e.g., systemic lupus erythematosus), and systemic infections.
  • Medications, including nonsteroidal anti–inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen)
  • Tobacco smoking


Chronic Kidney Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment >>