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Your Teenager and Chronic Kidney Disease

As a parent, you watch your teenager go through exciting and confusing times—from getting their driver’s license to choosing which college he or she wants to attend. So when your teenager learns he or she has chronic kidney disease (CKD), it can become an unexpected challenge in your family.

How do teenagers get kidney disease?

The two most frequent causes for adults to develop CKD are hypertension and diabetes. In teens these causes are uncommon. However, due to unhealthy eating habits leading to excessive weight gain, more young people are prone to these diseases.

For most teens, CKD is caused by congenital disorders or diseases that develop, such as:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTIs happen when bacteria moves up into the bladder and multiplies)
  • Reflux nephropathy (occurs after a teenager has a UTI)
  • Nephrotic syndrome (occurs when the kidneys are diseased and unable to keep protein from leaking into the urine)
  • Nephritis (happens when the kidney becomes inflamed)

Warning signs of kidney disease or UTI

Consult your doctor if your teenager exhibits:

  • Unexplained low-grade fever
  • Swelling around the eyes, feet, and ankles
  • Lower back pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Frequent severe headaches
  • Unpleasant-smelling urine
  • Urine that is cloudy, bloody or dark brown
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Poor appetite
  • Slow growth or weight gain
  • Weak urinary stream, dribbling or fanning of urine stream
  • Painful urination
  • Weakness, excessive tiredness or loss of energy
  • Pale skin or "washed out" appearance

When teenagers go on dialysis

Dialysis cleans the blood and removes extra fluid when kidneys are no longer able to do this job.

Peritoneal dialysis (PD), home hemodialysis (HHD), in-center hemodialysis and in-center nocturnal dialysis treatments can be discussed with your teen’s physician. Many teenagers may also be candidates for a kidney transplant. A treatment choice is dependent on your teen’s health and lifestyle needs, as well as how your family feels about the treatment requirements.

Teenagers and kidney transplant

Many teenagers who need dialysis may be candidates for a renal (kidney) transplant. Kidney transplant is an option that provides a more “normal” life for your teen, because he or she will not need to spend time on dialysis. A kidney can come from a living donor — usually a healthy family member or close friend — or someone who has recently passed away, but it must be a match to your teenager’s body to prevent organ rejection. Immunosuppressant medication will be prescribed so that the new kidney is not rejected.

Lifestyle issues for teens on dialysis

You may be wondering how your teenager’s lifestyle will change after learning they have kidney disease. Many teens lead a relatively normal life.

Talk to their doctor about whether or not they can continue to do certain activities, such as playing their favorite sport. Strength training of some type could be an option, too. Overall, consider exercise  as a way for your teenager to lead a healthy lifestyle.

There are many online resources for your teen to reach out to other teenagers with kidney disease. Many times acceptance into particular groups is what teenagers value most. Perhaps ask your teenager’s healthcare team about summer camps in your area dedicated to teenagers with kidney disease.

Sexual change may move slowly for teens with kidney disease, especially those on dialysis. Teenaged girls can experience irregular periods or go without getting one at all. You may want to talk to your teen’s doctor if their sexual development has been affected.

Emotions change a lot, too. Teenagers already go through the usual hormonal changes. And when CKD is added, stress, anger and fear can arise. If you, your teenager or anyone else within your household are upset, consider addressing such issues. Talk to your child’s doctor and social worker about how to approach open communication with your teenager.

The good news for teenagers

Teenagers can maintain a normal life by being treated as a teenager first and a teenager with CKD second. The transition may be tough so it’s important to sustain open lines of communication between you, your teen and your teen’s healthcare team.