The kidneys are vital organs of the body, and though they might not enjoy as much attention as the heart or the lungs, their function is crucial for the body to function well. The kidneys help filter out excess fluids and waste from the blood, and in turn from the body, and discard it in the form of urine. When the kidneys fail to carry out their function, it causes the excess fluids and toxic wastes as well as electrolytes to accumulate, leading to bloating, which is referred to as kidney disease.
Kidney disease is also termed as kidney failure, since it refers to the gradual failure of the functioning of the kidneys. By eliminating the wastes from the blood, the kidneys also play a vital role in maintaining blood pressure, regulating production of white blood cells, and electrolyte balance. Thus, kidney disease can affect these functions of the body as well.
The symptoms of chronic disease, which progress gradually, include swelling, lethargy, shortness of breath, confusion, and weakness.
Diagnosis of kidney disease
An early diagnosis of kidney disease can prevent it from progressing further and thereby help with timely treatment. The first step taken by the doctor to diagnose the disease is to inquire about the family as well as personal history. The inquiry will also include questions regarding a history of blood pressure or any medication taken that might adversely affect the kidneys; any changes observed in urinary habits; and details regarding family members suffering from or having suffered previously from any form of kidney disease.
This consultation is followed up with a physical examination in which the following tests are carried out:
- Urine test
This tests urine samples to check for any abnormalities that are caused due to kidney failure.
- Imaging test
This usually includes an ultrasound test to observe the size and structure of the kidneys, which might be different (for instance bloated or dilated) in case of kidney disease. Other imaging tests may also be carried out to assist in the diagnosis.
- Blood test
These are called kidney function tests, and they check the levels of urea, creatinine, and other wastes in the blood, which helps with the diagnosis. The usual blood tests carried out include a creatinine test, a BUN test, and a GFR (glomerular filtration rate) test. The GFR test helps to decide the stage of the kidney disease.
Glomerular filtration rate
The glomerular filtration process of the kidneys helps to filter out the excess fluids and wastes from the blood. The rate at which this filtration is carried out is determined by the age of the individual, their race and gender, and also the serum creatinine level, all of which are used in a formula to calculate the GF rate. A reading of 60 mL/min/1.73 m² and lower may indicate the presence of kidney disease, where lower readings may indicate the severity of the disease and kidney function. However, GFR is not an ideal test to indicate kidney disease in the case of patients who are either too old or young or those who are obese or who are amputees.