What Is Early Stage Kidney Disease?

Kidney disease is a gradual loss of kidney function and can lead to kidney failure. In the early stages of kidney disease, your kidneys still have some function and are able to filter waste from your blood. Getting an early CKD diagnosis and taking early action is important to help make sure you feel your best and your kidneys stay healthy longer.

What Does It Mean to Have Early Stage Kidney Disease? 

In total, there are 5 stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD), and each is defined by a different level of kidney function. Early stage kidney disease, stages 1 to 3, ranges from mild kidney damage to mild to severe loss of kidney function. In stage 4, people experience a severe loss of kidney function and in stage 5 they begin to experience kidney failure. You likely won’t experience many changes or symptoms during the first 3 stages. It’s important to diagnose kidney disease as early as possible so you can take steps to preserve your kidney function and slow the progression.

Your doctor can determine what stage of kidney disease you may be in by calculating your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), which is a measurement of how well your kidneys are cleansing your blood. Knowing your eGFR helps your doctor plan your treatment and track any progression.

Below are the eGFRs for CKD stages 1 to 3:

  • Stage 1: You have mild kidney damage with normal kidney function. 
  • Stage 2: You have mild loss of kidney function. 
  • Stage 3: You have mild to severe loss of kidney function. 

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Disease?

The symptoms of kidney disease may vary depending on what stage you are in, and many people don’t experience symptoms until the later stages when kidney failure occurs. However, it’s still beneficial to be aware of and look out for the following symptoms of early stage kidney disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling in legs
  • Foamy urine
  • More frequent urination
  • Swelling in legs
  • Swelling in hands and feet
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Muscle cramping

What are the risk factors for kidney disease? 

The challenge with CKD is that symptoms develop over time and many people don’t experience symptoms in the early stages. However, if you have any of the following risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting screened for kidney disease:

  • Diabetes can lead to damaged or weakened blood vessels, preventing the kidneys from filtering waste and toxins from your blood. 
  • Frequent high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels over time, including hardening and narrowing of arteries around the kidneys, preventing them from functioning as they should.  
  • Cardiovascular disease can lead to narrow or blocked blood vessels, reducing the supply of oxygen-rich blood supplied to the kidneys, which may lead to kidney disease. 
  • If you have a family history of kidney disease, you may be at higher risk for developing CKD. Talk to your doctor to learn more.  

It’s never too soon to get tested if you fall within this at-risk population. The sooner your doctor can confirm a diagnosis, the sooner you can start a treatment plan to preserve your kidney function.

Can early stage kidney disease be reversed? 

Unfortunately, most early stage kidney disease cannot be reversed. However, taking action early on to protect your kidney health can help you slow the progression of the disease. Take control of your health by making healthy lifestyle choices and speaking with your doctor frequently to identify any changes in how you are feeling.

Steps to Take if You Have Early Stage Kidney Disease

Below are a few steps you can take if you have early stage kidney disease to help slow the progression and maintain kidney function. In addition to these steps, talk to your doctor to determine a treatment plan that works best for you.

  1. Talk to your doctor regularly. Let your doctor know how you are feeling and if you have any new symptoms. The more you share with your doctor, the more personalized your care plan will be.  
  2. Track your kidney function. Knowing your level of kidney function will help you and your doctor develop a treatment plan that is best for you and track any progression. 
  3. Eat a kidney-friendly diet. What you eat and drink can affect your kidneys and overall health. To help you eat well and find healthy options, your doctor may recommend you talk to a renal dietitian. 
  4. Make healthy lifestyle choices. Staying active and exercising, getting enough sleep at night, and not smoking are examples of healthy lifestyle choices to help you feel your best. 
  5. Treat underlying health conditions. Managing other health conditions can help you feel your best and prevent further damage to your kidneys.
  6. Take medications as prescribed. Your doctor may prescribe medication as part of your treatment plan. Make sure to speak with them before taking any new medications or supplements.

During the early stages of kidney disease, you still have some kidney function so it’s important to take steps to manage your health and preserve your kidney function so you can feel your best. If you haven’t already, talk to your doctor about getting tested for CKD. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with CKD, work with your doctor to develop a CKD Care Plan to help you slow progression and reach your health goals.

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