How the kidneys work.

Your kidneys filter toxins, excess fluids and extra water from your blood and create urine to remove these from your body. This filtering maintains a balance of acids, salt and minerals that allow the rest of your organs to function properly. Your kidneys also play a role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure and bone health.

What is kidney disease?

Kidney disease is any condition that negatively affects this filtration and creates imbalances in your blood.

Kidney disease is on the rise in the United States. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that nearly ten times more people are being treated for kidney failure than in 1980. Diabetes is the leading cause, and high blood pressure (uncontrolled or poorly controlled), is the second leading cause of kidney failure in the Unites States.

Our nationally recognized experts with advanced training diagnose and treat all types of kidney disease.

Acute Kidney Disease

Also called acute renal failure, acute kidney disease comes on suddenly and can be caused by infection, injury, medical conditions or certain medications, including some antibiotics and pain medications. Acute kidney failure can be serious, or even fatal, so it requires prompt, comprehensive treatment. It can often be reversed with proper treatment. A full recovery is often possible.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also called chronic renal disease, refers to conditions that cause the gradual loss of kidney function over time. CKD damages the kidneys and reduces their ability to filter waste and excess fluid from the body, among other critical functions. It is the most common type of kidney disease, and it generally becomes progressively worse.

Kidney disease is considered chronic when the kidneys are damaged or dysfunctional for more than three months. Kidney disease progresses in stages — chronic renal insufficiency, kidney/renal failure and the most serious stage is called end-stage renal disease (ESRD). ESRD can lead to kidney failure, the need for dialysis, and possibly a kidney transplant.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent chronic kidney disease from progressing to end-stage renal disease or kidney failure. Controlling pre-existing or co-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can also help reduce or stop the progression of CKD. Complications of chronic kidney disease include anemia, nerve damage, heart disease and kidney failure.

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

PKD is a genetic disease which causes fluid-filled cysts to form in both kidneys. It is  the fourth-leading cause of kidney failure, and it affects men, women and children of all races. PKD can affect other organs, including the liver, pancreas and large bowel. Learn more about polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

Kidney Stones

A kidney stone is a solid matter that forms from the crystallization of excreted substances in the urine. Kidney stones may remain in the kidney or break away and travel down the urinary tract, where larger stones can prevent the flow of urine and cause great pain. Our Kidney Stone Clinic offers preventive treatment to reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones. In some cases, procedures to remove stones may be required.

Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer starts as abnormal cells in the kidney that grow to form a tumor. Treatment options vary, and most do not require the removal of the kidney. Learn more about kidney cancer treatment.

End-Stage Renal Disease

Our team offers expert care for end-stage renal disease, also called end-stage kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure and the need for kidney transplant. For those considering transplant, our skilled evaluations and experience in coordinating all aspects of transplant care for patients and potential live kidney donors lead to optimal outcomes.

Before and after a kidney transplant, our nephrologists work closely with our transplant surgeons and other specialists to provide best-practice care for transplant patients and donors, providing specialized expertise for their long-term medical care. 

Through our participation in the National Kidney Registry, we offer even broader options for patients needing a life-saving transplant.

Related Kidney Disease Conditions

Many conditions exist in conjunction with kidney disease. Program physicians understand this, and are experienced in diagnosing and optimally treating conditions including:

  • Anemia and kidney disease
  • Electrolyte disorders – Electrolyte disorders are imbalances in the minerals your body needs to function, such as sodium, chloride, potassium, and carbon dioxide. Some electrolyte disorders can be caused by impaired kidney function. They can also lead to kidney stones or kidney failure.
  • Gout – Gout is a painful disease caused by the buildup of uric acid in the blood. If the body makes too much, or if the kidneys don’t clear it properly, levels may climb and a condition called hyperuricemia can develop. Hyperuricemia can lead to gout when crystals form in the joints or kidneys. Crystals in the kidneys can become stones, which can permanently damage kidneys or cause chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.
  • Being overweight or obese – These conditions can increase the chances of developing diabetes or high blood pressure, leading causes of chronic kidney disease. Men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent body fat are considered obese. Being overweight or obese has also been associated with focal glomerulosclerosis, a type of scarring in the kidneys that impairs kidney function.

Kidney Disease Symptoms

There are many different symptoms of kidney problems, and they can vary from person to person. You should talk to your doctor if you experience a combination of the following symptoms over an extended period of time.

  • A need to pee (urinate) more often
  • Tiredness, weakness, low energy level
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of your hands, feet and ankles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood in your urine; foamy urine
  • Puffy eyes
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Numbness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • High blood pressure
  • Darkening of your skin

Kidney Disease Causes

As noted above, acute (short-term) kidney disease can be brought on by an injury, infection or some medications.

Chronic kidney disease can be caused by several common conditions. Some people with CKD may not feel sick, especially in the early stages of the disease. However, everyone experiences symptoms differently. Managing these and other health conditions can help prevent some complications of CKD.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension), which can be both a cause and a symptom of CKD
  • Diabetes, the cause of nearly half of all cases of kidney failure
  • Glomerulonephritis, a type of inflammation that causes eventual damage of the filtering parts of the kidney
  • Blocked urinary tract that may be due to kidney stones, kidney tumors or an enlarged prostate
  • Urinary complications of surgery
  • Congenital conditions that can inhibit urine flow or otherwise cause infection and kidney damage
  • Lupus and other chronic diseases that affect the body’s immune system
  • Reflux nephropathy, which is a reverse flow of urine from the bladder to the kidneys
  • Other inherited conditions
  • Long-term intake of certain medicines that can permanently damage the kidneysWho is at risk for kidney disease?

Who is at risk for kidney disease?

If you have any of the following, you are at risk for kidney disease. Some factors are treatable and within your control. Others, such as age and family history are not.

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Abnormal kidney structure
  • African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian descent
  • Over 60 years of age.
  • A long history of taking painkillers, including over-the-counter products such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

Kidney Disease Prevention

The need for quality, comprehensive care for patients with all types of kidney disease is more important than ever. Our team of top physicians takes a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing and treating the entire spectrum of kidney disease and its related conditions, such as anemia. 

Early diagnosis and expert treatment of kidney disease are vital to helping prevent chronic kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure. Many types of kidney disease can be treated successfully, and other co-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can be controlled to slow or stop the progression of kidney disease.

Pregnancy and Kidney Disease

There are many special considerations for patients with kidney disease who are or who want to become pregnant. Men and women on dialysis or who have had kidney transplants may have questions about fertility or about using birth control. Our nephrologists work closely with fertility specialists to answer these questions. 

We have all the resources of an academic medical center to provide expert care related to kidney disease, conception and pregnancy. Learn more about our Reproductive Medicine Center and our Birth Center, with expertise in caring for high-risk pregnancies.

Kidney Disease Treatment Expertise

We offer expert care for acute kidney injury through our adult Level I Trauma Center, the only one in eastern Wisconsin. Specialized care clinics provide high-level expertise to patients with particular disease types and needs: 

  • Our Kidney Stone Clinic provides prevention and long-term solutions for recurring kidney stones. 
  • Care for patients with anemia and chronic kidney disease (CKD) and glomerulonephritis, a disease that damages the part of the kidney that filters waste and fluid from the blood. 
  • Dialysis treatment, including the Milwaukee area’s first nocturnal unit, a home program and other convenient options.

Top Kidney Physicians, Specialized Expertise

Not only do our nephrologists and kidney disease specialists have specialized training in caring for patients with advanced kidney disease, but they also have expertise in caring for patients with related conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and urinary complications of surgery. 

Our specialists have access to advanced technology, proven treatment approaches and all of the resources of an academic medical center. They use a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together physician specialists to consult on each patient’s care, depending on his or her needs.

Virtual Visits Are Available

Safe and convenient virtual visits by video let you get the care you need via a mobile device, tablet or computer wherever you are. We'll assess your condition and develop a treatment plan right away. To schedule a virtual visit, call 414-777-7700.

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Recognized as High Performing by U.S. News & World Report

Froedtert Hospital is nationally ranked in urology by U.S. News & World Report. Froedtert Hospital is also recognized as high performing in three adult specialties and 16 procedures and conditions, including kidney failure treatment.