Chronic kidney disease is a serious condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time. People outside the medical profession may not understand the vital role their kidneys play, but loss of kidney function can have a dramatic effect on quality of life. That only underscores the importance of recognizing how certain conditions, including some that are preventable, can lead to chronic kidney disease.

What do the kidneys do?

The National Kidney Foundation notes that the major role of the kidneys is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body through the production of urine. In addition, the kidneys regulate the amount of salt, potassium and acid in the body. Kidneys also affect other organs by producing hormones that affect how well those organs run.

When functioning at peak capacity, the kidneys are remarkably efficient and productive. For example, the NKF notes that the kidneys filter and return roughly 200 quarts of fluid to the bloodstream every 24 hours. Two of those quarts are removed through urine, but the remaining 198 are recovered.

What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is an umbrella term that includes conditions that damage the kidneys, thereby reducing their ability to perform the many life-sustaining tasks the body needs them to perform. CKD can increase a person’s risk of developing other conditions, including heart and blood vessel disease.

What causes CKD?

The NKF notes that diabetes and high blood pressure are the two main causes of CKD. Certain lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, can reduce risk for CKD by reducing the likelihood that a person will develop both diabetes and high blood pressure.

Other conditions also can affect the kidneys, contributed to damage that can result in CKD.

• Glomerulonephritis: The Mayo Clinic notes that glomerulonephritis is inflammation of the tiny filters in the kidneys that remove excess fluid, electrolytes and waste from the bloodstream and pass it into urine. Glomerulonephritis is a group of diseases that can occur on their own or as part of other diseases, including lupus or diabetes.

• Inherited diseases: Some kidney diseases, such as polycystic kidney disease, may be inherited. Polycystic kidney disease is characterized by the presence of large cysts in the kidneys that damage surrounding tissue. The American Kidney Fund notes that people can’t change their genes, but can make healthy lifestyle choices that can help work against genes that increase risk for kidney disease.

• Congenital issues: Malformations can develop while a baby is still in its mother’s womb, and these malformations can cause infections that can damage the kidneys.

The kidneys play a vital role in the human body. Understanding the threat posed by chronic kidney disease may encourage people to take steps to ensure their kidneys operate at peak capacity throughout their lives.