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Helping a Loved One Live Well With Chronic Kidney Disease

November 27, 2023
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Kidneys are small and mighty organs that play a vital role in your overall health. Their main job is to filter any excess fluid, chemicals and waste that accumulates as blood moves through the body. The kidneys separate this material from the blood, and it is then removed through the production of urine. Kidneys also balance the amount of salt, water and other chemicals in our bodies and kidneys make and regulate important hormones that control blood pressure, red blood cell production and calcium absorption.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) occurs when the kidneys stop functioning in the way that they should. This causes fluid and waste to accumulate in the body which can damage your kidneys and make you sick. Without the right treatment, kidney disease can progress to kidney failure which requires regular dialysis—a procedure that cleans your blood—or a kidney transplant in order to survive.

Although it isn’t possible to repair kidney damage that has already occurred, medication and lifestyle changes can preserve kidney function and prevent or delay failure. If someone in your life was recently diagnosed with kidney disease, this can be shocking and life-changing. Here are some ways to support your family member or friend as they take charge of their care and manage their disease.

Monitor Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease. Increased blood pressure damages and scars the vessels in the kidneys which affects their ability to function. Similarly, kidney disease also causes high blood pressure. Because of this, blood pressure control is considered the most effective way to slow the progression of kidney disease.

A health care provider will set a blood pressure goal for your loved one, but for most people, this should be less than 130/90 mm Hg. Remind or help your loved one to check their blood pressure throughout the day and document each reading. Take these totals to all appointments and clinic visits and let their doctor know immediately if there are any changes in these measurements.

Medication is often prescribed to kidney disease patients to control their blood pressure. Lifestyle changes such as heart-healthy meals, quitting smoking, taking medications appropriately, maintaining a healthy weight and adequate sleep are also required. However, for some people living with CKD, medication(s) and these lifestyle adjustments may not be enough to keep totals at a safe level. In this case, your loved one may be a candidate for a procedure like an angioplasty or stenting to improve blood flow to the kidneys.

Eat Well

A balanced diet can help your loved one meet their blood pressure goals, maintain a healthy weight, protect kidney function and prevent other health problems that can occur alongside kidney disease. Eating well together will also offer extra motivation for your loved one and better support your own overall health. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake, choosing homemade over processed food and learning to read nutrition labels to avoid saturated, trans fats and limit sodium levels, are all choices everyone can benefit from.

However, there are certain foods that are usually considered nourishing but may cause concerns for someone living with CKD. Depending on the stage of disease, your loved one may need to reduce the levels of potassium, phosphorus and protein in their diet. Kidney damage can make it difficult to remove some minerals and nutrients from the blood and high amounts may weaken bones and damage blood vessels, eyes or the heart. A registered dietitian can help you and your loved one create a meal plan that includes the food you enjoy and make any necessary adjustments if the disease advances over time.

Get Active

Chronic kidney disease also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Making physical activity a part of your daily life can reduce the risk of concurrent disease and improve health outcomes overall. Reduced kidney function can make people living with CKD tired, weak, short of breath and lead to limb pain. Regular movement will help limit these challenging side effects and keep your loved one strong and healthy.

Always speak to a primary care provider or kidney doctor (nephrologist) about the amount and type of activity that’s right for your loved one. General recommendations are around 30 minutes of aerobic, heart pumping exercise five days a week. To help you or your loved one to be more likely to keep it up, find an activity you both enjoy doing together.

Help with Medication Management

People living with kidney disease often take a variety of medications to slow down the progression of kidney damage and to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and other complications.

Kidney function significantly impacts the way the body processes medications. As your loved one’s kidney function changes, the dosage, frequency and type of medications may be adjusted. It’s a good idea to keep an updated list of all of prescriptions to help you keep track of these details. This list should also come to all medical appointments and any emergency room visits to prevent dangerous duplications or interactions.

It should also be noted that over-the-counter medications like pain or herbal medicine, vitamins and supplements can affect the kidneys and interfere with existing prescriptions. Always check with your loved one’s health provider or pharmacist before taking anything new.

Find Support

A diagnosis of chronic kidney disease, for you or someone in life, can be very overwhelming. It can be helpful to reach out to friends, family, neighbours, a social worker or another health professional, or anyone you feel comfortable with. And encourage your loved one to do the same. Be open and honest about how you feel and what you need, take breaks, accept help and do more of the things you enjoy.

You may also benefit from connecting with others who are living with or are affected by kidney disease. The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Kidney Connect program is an online social network for members of the kidney community. Sharing your experiences, suggestions and concerns in their chat rooms, forums, blogs and support groups can help you feel less alone.  VHA Home HealthCare’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Website may also be helpful on your chronic disease journey.

Learning as much as you can about chronic kidney disease and connecting with the right health care professionals can help you and your loved one know what to expect, prevent further damage and stay healthy longer.

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