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What are the Most Common Kidney Diseases?

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), kidney diseases are common problems and are among the main causes of mortality in the region of the Americas. Furthermore, they are responsible for a notable deterioration in the quality of life of many people.

The kidneys are two fist-sized organs located in the upper abdomen near the back. There is one on each side of the spine. Its main function is to filter waste from the blood and eliminate excess water through urine. They also regulate pH, sodium and potassium, and produce hormones.

However, when these organs are affected, their ability to perform these functions is compromised. The worst consequence is kidney failure, which may require complex treatments, such as dialysis.

8 Most Common Kidney Diseases

There are various diseases that can affect the kidneys. Below, we explore the eight most common.

1. Urinary infections

Urinary tract infections or UTIs represent a very common problem. They can be located in any of the structures that make up the urine excretory system.

In general, they are caused by bacteria and are most common in the bladder and urethra. There they are called cystitis and urethritis, respectively. These scenarios present with pain when urinating, frequent need to go to the bathroom, fever and discomfort in the lower abdomen.

But there are also UTIs that settle in the kidneys. This is the case of the so-called pyelonephritis.

It often happens that untreated cystitis or treated with the wrong antibiotics becomes complicated by pyelonephritis. The bacteria present in the bladder ascend to the kidneys, colonize there and multiply. Less commonly, microorganisms can also reach these organs from the blood or after kidney surgery that accidentally inoculated them.

The symptoms of a kidney infection are the following:

  • Fever.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain or burning when urinating.
  • Increased urinary frequency.
  • Cloudy, bad-smelling, or bloody urine.
  • Pain in the flanks, back, abdomen or groin.

It is crucial to seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms. Kidney infections can lead to serious complications, such as kidney failure. Fortunately, antibiotic treatment is usually effective.

2. Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a disorder that compromises the kidneys’ ability to filter blood. This condition, which affects approximately 37 million adults in the United States alone, progresses slowly and goes through different stages.

Diabetes is the most common cause of CKD. Then, secondly, we have high blood pressure. Increased blood sugar or persistently high blood pressure levels damage the glomeruli, which are the small structures where blood is filtered.

Heart disease and genetic conditions, such as polycystic kidney disease, can also trigger the problem.

Often, the initial stages of CKD are asymptomatic, making it difficult to detect early. However, as it progresses, a number of worrying symptoms may appear, including the following:

  • Fatigue.
  • Little appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Itchy and dry skin.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Swelling in the feet, legs, face and hands.

As the problem progresses, the kidneys evolve to the clinical picture of chronic kidney failure. In these cases, the person requires dialysis, a treatment that uses special machinery to filter excess fluid and waste from the blood, as would organs that now do not function.

Dialysis can help kidney disease, but it is not curative. In some cases, a kidney transplant may be the only viable treatment option.

3. Acute kidney failure (AKI)

Acute kidney failure (AKI) is a condition in which there is kidney damage or failure that developed over a short period of time. It can have repercussions on other organs in the body, such as the heart, lungs and brain.

Its causes can be very diverse and include severe and extensive burns, shock, hemorrhages with excessive bleeding, severe dehydration and the use of certain medications. It is more common in older people and hospitalized patients; especially in those who need intensive care.

The symptoms of ARF are the following:

  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Seizures.
  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Decrease in urine volume.
  • Swelling around eyes, ankles and feet.

It is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms. ARF is a serious condition that requires urgent treatment.

With timely intervention it is possible to prevent complications and achieve successful recovery.

4. Kidney stones

Kidney stones join the list of the most common kidney diseases. They occur when minerals and other substances present in the urine crystallize, forming solid masses within the urinary ducts.

Kidney stones usually form when there is an excess of mineral salts, such as calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate or uric acid.

The disease caused by the formation of stones is called kidney stones. Its characteristic symptoms are the following:

  • Difficulty urinating.
  • Pain or burning when urinating.
  • Cloudy or bad-smelling urine.
  • Presence of blood in the urine.
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections.
  • Severe pain in the back, flanks, lower abdomen, or groin.

These formations can leave the body through urine. It is a process that, although it causes a lot of pain, rarely causes significant complications.

When seeking medical attention for this common kidney disease, your doctor will begin a diagnostic process and plan a treatment. It may be just observation and changes in diet or it may require procedures to remove the stones.

To prevent the formation of kidney stones, it is necessary to maintain adequate hydration. In addition, the intake of foods that could increase the concentration of the substances that cause lithiasis must be controlled.

5. Kidney cysts

Simple kidney cysts are fluid -filled sacs that develop in the tissue of the kidneys. Its exact cause is still unknown. Sometimes they appear as a result of a previous injury or damage.

The simple cyst is solitary and, most of the time, asymptomatic. However, it can cause problems if it breaks, bleeds, or grows enough to put pressure on neighboring structures. Then, pain may appear in the flanks, back or abdomen, increased urinary frequency and blood in the urine.

It is important to differentiate simple cyst from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that causes the formation of numerous cysts in the kidneys. These lesions can interfere with the function of the organ and trigger kidney failure.

Symptoms of polycystic disease include back or side pain, high blood pressure, recurrent urinary tract infections, and blood in the urine. This condition is serious and has the ability to progress.

6. Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis is another common kidney disease, although the term certainly includes a heterogeneous group of disorders that present with hematuria, proteinuria, high blood pressure, and reduced kidney function to a variable degree. The situation is characterized by inflammation of the glomeruli, which are the tiny structures responsible for filtering blood.

The symptoms are in accordance with the definition of the disease. There is blood in the urine (hematuria), protein in the urine (proteinuria) causing foamy fluid, swelling in the body, and high blood pressure.

The origin of glomerulonephritis is diverse. It may respond to infections, the use of some medications, or congenital disorders. Although it improves on its own in mild cases, there are also aggressive forms that require dialysis or kidney transplant.

7. Nephrotic syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney disorder characterized by excessive excretion of proteins in the urine, due to damage to the glomeruli. This condition can have several causes, including primary kidney diseases and systemic disorders, such as diabetes.

The most common symptoms of nephrotic syndrome are persistent fatigue, swelling around the eyes or ankles, and weight gain from fluid buildup in the body. Furthermore, excessive excretion of proteins in the urine leads to a decrease in these molecules in the blood, which can lead, as a side effect, to hypercholesterolemia and a greater possibility of bleeding and thrombotic disorders.

Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms, preventing complications, and addressing the underlying cause. This can be achieved by using medications to reduce protein loss, diuretics to help remove excess fluid, and, in severe cases, procedures such as plasmapheresis therapy or kidney transplant.

8. Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is the result of uncontrolled growth of cells in the organ. The most common variety is clear cell renal cell carcinoma, which makes up approximately 70% of all cases in adults.

However, there are other less common types. For example, transitional cell carcinoma, Wilms tumor (nephroblastoma), and renal sarcoma.

There are risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing kidney cancer. Among them, smoking, family history, obesity, chronic kidney disease and high blood pressure.

In its initial stages it is usually asymptomatic, making early detection difficult. However, as the disease progresses, the following signs may appear:

  • Pallor.
  • Fatigue.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Reduction of appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Pain in the back or abdomen.
  • Presence of a lump or swelling on the flanks.

The diagnosis is made through imaging tests, such as computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. With blood tests it is possible to detect tumor markers.

Treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. It depends on the stage at the time of diagnosis and the aggressiveness of the cancer.

Who can develop kidney problems?

There are several situations that can predispose a person to having some of the most common kidney diseases. The main risk factors are the following:

  • Genetic disorders: Polycystic kidney disease, for example, runs in families.
  • Family history: Having close relatives with chronic kidney disease increases your risk of developing it as well.
  • Exposure to heavy metals: frequent contact with lead, mercury and cadmium accumulates toxins in kidney tissue.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels within the kidneys, hindering their ability to filter blood.
  • Consumption of medications: some remedies can be nephrotoxic, that is, harmful to the kidneys, if used in excess or for very long periods.
  • Diabetes: it is one of the main causes of kidney disease. Excess glucose in the blood damages the kidneys over time and causes serious complications.

How can you prevent the most common kidney diseases?

General care is a valuable way to prevent the most common kidney diseases. Simple habits to promote kidney health can preserve organ functionality in the long term, such as the following:

  • No Smoking.
  • Reduce the consumption of salt.
  • Follow a balanced diet.
  • Drink enough water and stay well hydrated.
  • Control blood pressure and blood sugar.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise.
  • Do not self-medicate and follow medical instructions when receiving a prescription.

Additionally, you must be alert when symptoms of kidney disease appear. In this case, a health professional should be consulted immediately. This will reduce care time and help avoid serious complications.

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