The average person probably doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about kidney function. As long as they do what they’re supposed to, why should it be of interest? However, when a family member develops kidney disease it can become a priority, especially when the disease damages other parts of the body.
It’s hard to say what caused our elder’s kidneys to start failing. She’s been on pain medications for a long time, and these can cause kidney damage. She has high blood pressure, which is another possible factor. I can say that it came as a total shock to her and to the rest of us. What’s happened since has been an education, and not the easy way.
Stomach: This was our first clue. Our elder began to have terrible abdominal pain with no clear diagnosis. It was considered gastritis, which can be traced to failing kidneys. As the kidney function at that point wasn’t to a critical level, we didn’t understand the issue until much later.
Bones and Joints: The kidneys filter phosphorus from the body. If they can’t filter enough of it out, calcium is drawn from the bones to help in the process. This can cause bones to be brittle and to break. In fact, that has already happened once with our elder. A simple twisting injury broke her ankle.
Skin: This process is just beginning. Our elder has severe itching from time to time, and the cause has been traced to her kidney disease. The good news is that there are medications that seem to control the itching for now. There are other skin issues that can occur and some of them are disturbing to look at.
Muscles: Part of the equation that determines total kidney function is creatinine, a waste substance from muscles. In kidney disease, this substance doesn’t get filtered out. It can cause muscle damage, but it can also be a danger in and of itself. If the patient doesn’t have a lot of muscle to begin with, this percentage can be thrown off and the patient can be in worse condition than the tests show. This information was given to me by our elder’s nephrologist.
There is another problem, and this is one that our elder won’t face the disease. She has opted out of dialysis. However, dialysis patients with end stage renal disease have, for some thus far unknown reason, less physical performance capability. One comment suggests that a 30 year old hemodialysis patient has less physical performance capability than a sedentary 70 year old. That’s disturbing, both to the scientists who wrote the article and to the rest of us who may have the problem someday.
Brain: This is the area that most concerns our family and our elder. While there may be other problems with her brain, severe kidney disease is probably part of it. There is debate about how much of it is from kidney difficulties, but it is in the mix.
Because the kidneys filter our blood, there really isn’t a part of the body not affected by the disease. We may not know all of them, but if blood flows there, so do waste products left from diseased kidneys. Knowing this in advance could help you or an older relative avoid some of the problems severe kidney disease can cause.