Sexuality has physical and emotional components, both of which can be affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD). Below are some potential physical and emotional changes you may experience if you are a man living with CKD.
Kidney disease can cause chemical changes in the body affecting circulation, nerve function, hormones and energy level. Also, any underlying health conditions that contribute to CKD like high blood pressure or diabetes can affect male sexuality.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms men with kidney disease experience. In the early stages of CKD, low levels of waste and fluid remain in the body. This can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Your doctor can perform tests to determine how much kidney function you have left. If you are in the later stages of CKD or end stage renal disease (ESRD), your doctor may refer you to a renal dietitian. The dietitian will place you on a kidney-friendly diet designed to limit the amount of waste that can build up in your body. The less waste and fluid in your system, the better you will feel.
People with end stage renal disease may feel tired after their hemodialysis session. If you are new to hemodialysis, it may take several treatments for your body to adjust. Ongoing fatigue should be discussed with your doctor and renal dietitian. Your doctor can recommend changes to your dialysis treatment or medicines. Your renal dietitian can help you go over your food and fluid intake and make any needed changes.
Hormones are chemicals produced by the body’s endocrine system. They play a major role in a person’s ability to feel sexual desire. The kidneys are part of the endocrine system. The adrenal glands, located at the top of each kidney, produce certain hormones. Men with renal disease may find their hormone levels changing. If hormone levels become out of balance, you may experience a decrease in your sex drive.
Your doctor can perform blood work to determine if your lack of interest in sex is due to your changing hormone levels. He may prescribe medicine to bring your levels to a normal range.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), commonly called "impotence," affects many men—even those without kidney disease. An estimated 20-30 million men in the US have problems with impotence. Erectile dysfunction can happen when blood vessels and nerves to the penis become damaged. Without proper blood flow, the penis cannot maintain an erection.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of chronic kidney disease. These conditions affect blood flow and weaken blood vessels. If you have either of these conditions, it is important you follow your doctor’s treatment plan to prevent further damage.
Sometimes erectile dysfunction is a side effect of medicines, particularly those taken to control blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about the medicines you are taking if you are experiencing impotence. Your doctor can discuss the problem with you and may be able to make changes to your medications or suggest treatments for erectile dysfunction.
Sexuality is not just about sexual intercourse. It is also about how people feel and express themselves. Feeling sexual or attractive becomes more difficult when the body undergoes unexpected changes. This can affect how people interact with others and their ability to develop intimate relationships.
Many men feel they may be less attractive because of the physical changes related to their condition or treatment. People with chronic kidney disease may experience some undesirable changes to their bodies. Symptoms such as breath and body odor, complexion problems, weight gain or unusual facial or body hair may be present. A man on hemodialysis may feel self conscious about how his vascular access site looks and feels. Men on peritoneal dialysis may worry about the size of their abdomens. Issues like these can make you feel less attractive to your partner or potential partner.
Discuss any uncomfortable physical changes with your partner and your healthcare team. Some physical changes are temporary, while others may indicate a health complication.
Men may feel worried, anxious and depressed when faced with a serious illness such as chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. This is normal, but these emotions may cause loss of energy and lower interest in activities that they once enjoyed, including sex. Stress about how kidney disease may affect your job and your family can also affect your sex life.
These feelings can be overwhelming. Talking to your doctor and your social worker can be helpful. If feelings of depression or sadness last for more than two weeks, tell your doctor right away.
Some men with kidney disease are afraid sexual activity may be harmful to their condition or harmful to their partners. Most people with kidney disease are able to enjoy active sex lives. Speak with your doctor about your concerns. In very rare instances, sexual intercourse may not be possible. But activities such as touching, hugging and kissing provide feelings of warmth and closeness even if intercourse is not involved. Professional sex therapists can recommend alternative methods of sexual expression.
Men with chronic kidney disease can take an active role in learning about their condition and the treatments available. Your healthcare team is there to answer any questions you may have. Consider joining an in-person support group or an online group to talk with others who are in similar circumstances. Visit the DaVita Discussion Forum to see what others are talking about, ask questions and share experiences.
And, as always, carefully following your treatment program can make a major difference in how you feel. Dealing with a chronic illness can be a challenge. Taking some positive actions and maintaining a healthy outlook makes it possible to live a happy, productive, fulfilling life.
This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from a physician.
Please check with a physician if you need a diagnosis and/or for treatments as well as information regarding your specific condition. If you are experiencing urgent medical conditions, call 9-1-1