Kidney Disease FAQs

Your kidneys filter your blood, removing waste and water that become urine. When kidneys are less able to do their job over time, it’s called chronic kidney disease. Kidney failure is the most severe stage of the disease. Learn what you can do to help protect your kidneys.

What’s kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease, also called chronic kidney failure, is the gradual loss of kidney function. Waste and excess fluids from your blood become difficult to filter and expel through urine.

In the early stages, kidney disease may have few symptoms. In the advanced stages, kidney function is seriously impaired, causing high waste and fluid levels in the body. This can lead to end-stage kidney failure, which is life-limiting without dialysis or a kidney transplant.

What causes kidney disease?

Many conditions can cause or worsen kidney disease, including:

  • Diabetes type 1 or 2
  • Inflammation of the kidney’s filtering units or structures
  • High blood pressure
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Prolonged urinary tract obstruction from an enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers
  • Recurrent kidney infections
  • Urine backing up into the kidneys

What’s polycystic kidney disease?

Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited condition in which clusters of cysts develop in the kidneys. The kidneys enlarge and can’t function as well. The disease varies in severity, and some complications are preventable with lifestyle changes and treatment.

Is kidney disease hereditary?

Yes, more than 60 inherited conditions affect the kidneys, such as:

  • Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease is the most common inherited condition. It causes cysts to form in the kidneys.
  • Alport syndrome damages tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, causing blood and protein loss in urine.
  • Cystinosis damages kidney cells, leading to the loss of electrolytes and amino acids.
  • Fabry disease is a buildup of a type of fat that affects many parts of the body, including kidneys.
  • Thin basement membrane disease affects the glomeruli, which are small blood vessels in the kidneys that filter waste.
  • Bartter and Gitelman syndromes are rare conditions that affect how the kidneys reabsorb salt and process electrolytes.
  • Tuberous sclerosis complex is the growth of noncancerous tumors throughout the body, including in the kidneys.
  • Nephronophthisis causes swelling and scarring that reduce kidney function.

How do you test for kidney disease?

Mercy doctors use blood and urine tests, imaging and diagnostic tests to find out how your kidneys are functioning. Tests may include:

  • Albumin urine test – Detects albumin, a protein that passes into the urine when kidneys are damaged
  • Creatinine blood and urine tests – Measures creatinine, a waste product that the kidneys filter out
  • Glomerular filtration rate – Determines how well the kidneys are processing wastes
  • Imaging tests – Show kidney size, shape and unusual features using x-rays, ultrasounds and other tests
  • Kidney biopsy – Examines a small piece of kidney tissue under a microscope to look for damage or disease

What’s a nephrologist?

Nephrologists are doctors who specialize in treating kidney conditions. Mercy nephrologists are highly trained in the latest treatment advances.

Find a Urologist

Mercy has experienced urologists across most of our communities. 

Find a urologist near you.