Learning you have chronic kidney disease can be stressful. You might even be frightened. Most people have lots of questions and need answers. This can help you know what to expect. Here are some key questions, and answers, about chronic kidney disease: 1. What is chronic kidney disease? Your kidneys filter your blood and produce urine. Having chronic kidney disease means your kidneys are damaged and cannot do their job as well as they should. Certain lifestyle changes and other treatments can help prevent or slow damage to the kidneys. 2. Why did I get kidney disease? Diabetes and high blood pressure damage blood vessels in the kidneys. People who have either of these conditions are more likely to develop chronic kidney disease than are people who don't have these conditions. Other health issues also can take a toll on the kidneys over time. These include inflammation in and around the kidneys as well as kidney stones. Conditions that block the urinary tract can harm your kidneys. So can kidney infections that keep coming back. Also, if you have a close relative with kidney disease, you are at greater risk for it. Smoking and being obese are other risk factors. 3. How could I have kidney disease if I feel fine? Early on, chronic kidney disease may not cause any symptoms. That's because the damage to your kidneys is still mild. Your kidneys also can make up for this damage by working even harder. Tests, including urine and blood tests, are the only way to detect kidney disease at this early stage. Symptoms of kidney disease include nausea, weakness, fatigue, trouble sleeping, swelling in the feet and ankles, and changes in bathroom habits. However, most people don’t notice symptoms until the kidney damage is severe. 4. Can kidney disease be cured? Kidney disease usually cannot be cured. It often gets worse with time. However, treatments can help protect your kidneys and reduce your risk of complications. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your chances of slowing the progression of the disease. 5. Does kidney disease increase my risk for other health problems? If your kidneys are damaged and not working right, you are at greater risk for other health issues. For instance, kidney disease makes heart disease and stroke more likely. The kidneys also help make red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. But, if your kidneys aren't working like they should, your red blood cell level can drop too low. That's called anemia. The kidneys also keep phosphorus and potassium at a healthy level in your body. But, having kidney disease can lead to too-high levels of both of these nutrients in your blood. High phosphorous levels can drain the bones of calcium and weaken them. High potassium levels can also increase your risk for heart rhythm problems that can be dangerous. 6. What happens if my kidneys fail? Kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. That means your kidneys no longer work. This causes waste products and fluid to build up in your body. Kidney failure can occur quickly. Or, it can take many years to develop. Kidney failure cannot be cured, but life-saving treatments are available. Dialysis does the job your kidneys would do if they were healthy. It uses a machine to filter your blood. You may also be a candidate for a kidney transplant. 7. How can I protect my kidneys? You can slow down kidney damage by keeping your blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control. This may mean taking medication. It’s also important to get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight. This can help reduce your blood pressure. Exercise also helps keep blood sugar levels steady. Another way to ease the burden on your kidneys is to cut back on salt and protein. Also cut back on foods high in phosphorous and potassium. If you smoke, it’s important to quit. 8. What can I do to help someone cope with kidney disease? Patients and their caregivers may benefit from a support group. It’s also important to try to maintain a normal routine. This helps minimize any feelings of loss or disappointment. Getting exercise and being physically active can help ease feelings of anxiety or tiredness that often come with kidney disease. Creating opportunities for your friend or family member with kidney disease for enjoying the outdoors, such as walking around a pedestrian mall, will help with physical activity. Talking to a trained counselor or social worker can help too.