Chronic Kidney Disease: What You Need to Know


by Alan Finkelstein

Chronic Kidney Disease: What You Need to Know

You may not think about your kidneys often, but they are vital for your health. The kidney regulates the amount of fluid in our body, removes toxins from our blood, regulates blood pressure, increases our red blood cells, and helps keep our bones healthy1. Therefore, it is very important to take care of your kidneys to prevent a condition called, “Chronic Kidney Disease” (CKD).

CKD is when your kidneys are injured and begin to fail. The most common risk factors for developing CKD are diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a family history of kidney failure2. Additionally, the risk of developing CKD increases with age, and is more common in African Americans and Hispanics. Initially, you may develop CKD and not have any symptoms. As your CKD gets worse, a buildup of extra fluid and salt can result in swelling (edema), usually in the legs, feet and ankles. Other symptoms of CKD may include fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, itchy skin, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations3. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor. If CKD progresses, it can result in End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), which is when a person needs dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.

CKD can also cause high blood pressure, increasing your risk for a heart attack or stroke. In order to prevent CKD, it is important to control your blood sugar levels, monitor your blood pressure, exercise, and eat a healthy diet4. Additionally, reducing the amount of sodium in your food will help prevent fluid accumulation and lower your blood pressure. It is also important to avoid eating too much protein, because a lot of protein forces the kidneys to work harder5.

Your kidneys maintain the balance of salts and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium, in your body. An imbalance of any of these minerals can make the symptoms of CKD worse. For this reason, you may need to adjust your diet if you are diagnosed with CKD. For example, choose foods that are lower in sodium, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid prepared or packaged foods. You may need to avoid eating foods with too much phosphorus, which can build up in your blood vessels and make them stiff. Foods high in phosphorus include dairy products, nuts, and whole grains. High levels of potassium can cause serious heart problems, so try to avoid foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, and bananas.

This can certainly be overwhelming and there is a lot to learn. Fortunately, there are many resources, organizations to help, and many healthy recipes to try. So please, don’t forget to take care of your kidneys!


  1. NIDDK:
  2. National Kidney Foundation:
  3. General Nutrition:
  4. Recipes:


  1. Chmielewski, C., Renal anatomy and overview of nephron function. Nephrol Nurs J, 2003. 30(2): p. 185-90; quiz 191-2.
  2. Hill, N.R., et al., Global Prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One, 2016. 11(7): p. e0158765.
  3. Webster, A.C., et al., Chronic Kidney Disease. Lancet, 2017. 389(10075): p. 1238-1252.
  4. Chen, T.K., D.H. Knicely, and M.E. Grams, Chronic Kidney Disease Diagnosis and Management: A Review. JAMA, 2019. 322(13): p. 1294-1304.
  5. Ko, G.J., et al., Dietary protein intake and chronic kidney disease. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2017. 20(1): p. 77-85.

Alan Finkelstein was born and raised in Queens, New York. He attended Queens College for his undergraduate and master’s degrees, where he studied chemistry. He is currently an MD/PhD student at the University of Rochester. His research focuses on quantitative magnetic resonance imaging. He is passionate about medicine and science and is currently a member of the LatinX Health Pathway at the University of Rochester. He speaks English, Spanish and French and is passionate about learning languages to better communicate with people.

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