U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Kidney Disease Basics

Your kidneys filter extra water and wastes out of your blood and make urine. Your kidneys also help control blood pressure so that your body can stay healthy. Read more about what your kidneys do.
 
Kidney disease means that the kidneys are damaged and can't filter blood like they should. This damage can cause wastes to build up in the body. It can also cause other problems that can harm your health.
 

For most people, kidney damage occurs slowly over many years, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure. This is called chronic kidney disease. When someone has a sudden change in kidney function—because of illness, or injury, or have taken certain medications—this is called acute kidney injury. This can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Kidney disease is a growing problem. More than 20 million Americans may have kidney disease and many more are at risk. Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. The main risk factors for developing kidney disease are:

  • Diabetes,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, and
  • A family history of kidney failure.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of kidney disease.

​These conditions can slowly damage the kidneys over many years.

 

Early kidney disease has no signs or symptoms.

You may not feel any different until your kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have kidney disease. A blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in your urine. Read more about testing for kidney disease.

Watch a provider explain why testing is important, even if you don't have symptoms.

Videos

Videos

Why did you test me for kidney disease?
Why did you test me for kidney disease? (0:30)

The doctor explains the importance of testing for kidney disease even if a patient feels fine.

What do the kidneys do? Approach 1
What do the kidneys do? Approach 1 (0:52)

"A doctor explains what the kidneys look like, their function, and how they keep people healthy."

What do the kidneys do? Approach 2
What do the kidneys do? Approach 2 (1:01)

"A doctor explains chronic kidney disease (CKD) to a patient, including its effect on the body, and when dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed."

What is chronic kidney disease? Approach 1
What is chronic kidney disease? Approach 1 (0:53)

A doctor explains what chronic kidney disease (CKD) is and who is most at risk.

What is chronic kidney disease? Approach 2
What is chronic kidney disease? Approach 2 (0:35)

"A doctor explains chronic kidney disease (CKD) to a patient, including its effect on the body, and when dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed"

Is there a connection between heart disease and kidney disease?
Is there a connection between heart disease and kidney disease? (0:30)

"A doctor explains the relationship between heart disease and chronic kidney disease (CKD), emphasizing the importance of blood pressure control to reduce the risk of both these diseases."

Kidney disease can be treated if detected early. 
The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease.
 

Kidney disease usually does not go away.

Instead, it may get worse over time and can lead to kidney failure. If the kidneys fail, treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary. Kidney disease can also lead to other health conditions including heart disease. In fact, people with kidney disease are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.
 

What your kidneys do.

You have two kidneys. They are bean-shaped and about the size of a fist. They are located in the middle of your back, on the left and right sides of your spine.

Graphic of a person with arrows pointing to the kidneys  

The kidneys filter your blood, removing wastes and extra water to make urine. They also help control blood pressure and make hormones that your body needs to stay healthy. When the kidneys are damaged, wastes can build up in the body.

Read more about how the kidneys work.

 
Page last updated: March 1, 2012
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