We may not think about how our kidneys affect our health as often as we consider our heart and lungs, but the kidneys perform multiple tasks that are essential to life. Not only do they filter our blood, removing harmful waste and extra water, but also they help control blood pressure and make hormones that regulate how we use the nutrients in our food. When you have chronic kidney disease, or CKD, it can affect almost every system in your body. Because it’s a "silent disease" with few symptoms, it's important to ask your doctor if you are at risk and whether you should be tested for CKD. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of CKD and the complications that can result, including the following. Anemia Healthy kidneys make a hormone called EPO, which signals your bone marrow to produce red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. When the kidneys are diseased or damaged, they make less EPO, so the bone marrow makes fewer red blood cells. That's what anemia is--a lack of red blood cells. When there are not enough red blood cells transporting oxygen to your body's tissues and organs, it can make you feel weak and even raise the risk of having a heart attack. Fluid Retention When your kidneys aren't working well enough to remove extra fluid and sodium from your body, you may have swelling, known as edema. The swelling from kidney disease usually occurs in your legs and around your eyes. The excess fluid can also cause high blood pressure or fluid buildup in your lungs, or you may develop pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the membrane around your heart. High Potassium Levels The mineral potassium, which you get from food, regulates your heartbeat and controls nerves and muscle; however, too much of it can be a serious health problem. Healthy kidneys remove excess potassium, but in advanced kidney disease, potassium can build up to dangerous levels. If your potassium rises suddenly, it can cause an irregular heartbeat and even a heart attack. Some symptoms of high potassium levels include: Muscle Fatigue Weakness Paralysis Nausea If you have kidney disease and experience any of these symptoms, call your healthcare provider immediately. Weak or Brittle Bones Your kidneys help maintain the right balance of phosphorus and calcium in your body, both of which affect bone health. If you have chronic kidney disease, you may have too much phosphorus, which draws calcium from your bones and makes them brittle and more likely to break. Your kidneys also help your body use vitamin D, which keeps your bones strong, so when your kidneys aren’t functioning properly and the vitamin D is not utilized, your bones may become weaker. Heart Disease Heart disease can be both a cause and result of chronic kidney disease. People with heart disease and those with risk factors for heart disease--such as people with diabetes or high blood pressure--are at higher risk for developing CKD. Kidney disease can also raise the levels of various substances in your body that affect heart health, including cholesterol, fat, calcium and phosphorus. Imbalances in certain enzymes and amino acids due to poorly functioning kidneys can also lead to heart problems. Malnourishment Your kidneys help your body use the nutrients from food efficiently, but if they are not functioning properly, you may not have much of an appetite. As a result, you may develop a condition called PEM, or protein energy malnutrition. PEM causes weight loss and muscle wasting, because when your body isn't getting enough protein from food, it begins to utilize the protein in muscle tissue to keep your vital functions going. Dialysis treatments for kidney disease can also contribute to malnutrition, and dietary recommendations are an important component of managing kidney disease. Your kidneys are multi-taskers, handling duties as varied as filtering more than 120 gallons of blood a day and keeping many of the body's systems in balance. Healthy kidneys are essential to a healthy life. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you are at a higher risk for developing chronic kidney disease, so talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to keep your kidneys going strong.