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Lifestyle Choices for Those with Chronic Kidney Disease 

What is my role with my kidney disease?

There is a lot that can be done early in chronic kidney disease (CKD) to keep you feeling well and to maintain your kidney function for as long as possible. You also may be able to help prevent some long-term complications of kidney disease, such as bone disease or heart problems, by acting early. Your role is to learn all you can and work with your care team to get the best possible care.

Diet and exercise are two areas where you have a lot of control. Talk with your care team to determine individualized dietary guidelines based on lab tests and your stage of CKD. Stay active and get plenty of exercise.

I was diagnosed with kidney disease. Should I stop exercising and rest more?

While we all need rest, we need exercise too. Try to stay active. If you’ve been sedentary in the past, talk to your doctor about starting a mild exercise program. The key is to start slowly and build up gradually.

How can smoking affect kidney disease?

Smoking can make kidney disease worse by working against you if you are trying to slow the progression of CKD.

People with diabetes who smoke tend to develop kidney disease earlier and lose kidney function more quickly than those who don’t smoke, or who quit smoking. Smoking increases high blood pressure and cardiovascular risks, two health problems that often occur along with kidney disease.

You’ll be taking better care of yourself if you can reduce the amount you smoke or quit altogether. If you’re willing to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy, as well as counseling or support groups.

Why am I so tired when I have kidney disease?

Fatigue is often caused by anemia, a shortage of red blood cells. When you have anemia, you feel tired, weak, cold, even confused. Anemia occurs with kidney disease because failing kidneys make less of a hormone called erythropoietin, or EPO. EPO tells your body to make red blood cells. Treating anemia with synthetic EPO and iron supplements will give you more energy and help prevent damage to your heart.

What can I do about muscle cramps?

Cramps—especially leg cramps—are common for those with kidney disease. Cramps are thought to be caused by imbalances in fluid and electrolytes, or by nerve damage or blood flow problems. Here are suggestions that may help cramping:

  • Stretch the muscle
  • Massage
  • Take a hot shower or bath
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Wear comfortable shoes

What can I do about itching?

While skin problems are common for those with kidney disease, it can be difficult to determine the cause. Below are some reasons you may be itching and what may be done to help.

  • Blood levels of phosphorus or parathyroid hormone (PTH) that rise as kidney function drops can lead to itchy skin (and other problems). Your doctor can prescribe a phosphate binder for you to take with meals and snacks to get your blood levels into the target range.
  • Itching can be caused by dry skin. Use moisturizing cream or lotion.
  • Allergies can cause itching, even from products you use regularly. Think about what you could be sensitive to in your environment, such as soaps, lotions, detergents, perfumes, etc.
  • Many people find that getting out in the sun a bit helps with itching, though the reasons for this are unclear.

Ask your nephrologist and/or dermatologist for tips on how you can deal with stubborn itching.

Make good choices

Learning more about kidney disease and taking control of your health can help prolong your kidney function and live a good quality of life.