20 Percent Kidney Function: Symptoms & Treatments

The kidneys are a pair of organs that help remove wastes from the body and maintain internal balance. When kidney disorder occurs, these functions may be compromised. People who only have 20% kidney function remaining may face renal failure, an end-stage kidney dysfunction which can be life-threatening. To avoid this, patients must consult a nephrologist, who is a kidney specialist to get proper treatment and advice.

Symptoms of 20 Percent Kidney Function

Symptoms of early kidney disorder are often mild and come unnoticed. However, if you have only 20% kidney function, you may experience marked changes, which include:

  • Anemia. A drop to 20 kidney function may result in breathlessness and fatigue, which are often due to anemia. The kidneys produce erythropoietin, a hormone that is responsible red blood cell maturation. With advanced kidney disease, you will have fewer mature red blood cells, resulting in anemia. This condition has to be treated with erythropoietin injections.
  • Excess potassium. With only 20% kidney function, you will have high levels of potassium in your blood because the kidneys lose their ability to remove excess potassium from the body. This is a life-threatening condition that can result in abnormal heart rhythms and death. Potassium levels may be controlled with dietary restriction.
  • Excess phosphorus. With advanced kidney disease you may experience itchy skin caused by excess phosphorus, which is due to the loss of the kidneys’ ability to filter. Dietary restriction helps minimize this symptom. Using skin moisturizers can help soothe itchy skin to prevent scratching.
  • Edema. Kidney disease often manifests as mild swelling in the eyelids and lower legs at the onset, but if you have only 20 kidney function, you may have edema even in your lungs, which can make breathing difficult.
  • Urine changes. Patients with kidney disease may find foam in their urine, which is caused by excess protein excretion. You may also have abnormal urine color and experience frequent urination at night.
  • Digestive problems. With only 20 kidney function, you may also experience symptoms in digestive system, which include nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Kidney failure may lead you to develop problems in the cardiovascular system, such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, and more.

Treatments for 20 Percent Kidney Function

As your kidney function deteriorates, your signs and symptoms will worsen and you will need definitive treatment to improve your health. When your tests show that you only have 20% kidney function, your doctor may recommend these treatments before kidney failure sets in:

1. Dialysis

To prevent toxic accumulation of wastes and chemicals in the body due to kidney failure, dialysis may be recommended. There are two types of dialysis one can choose from to clean the blood: peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis. Each type has its own risks and advantages. Patients who choose to undergo hemodialysis in a dialysis facility get treatments three times a week to have their blood cleaned. Those who choose peritoneal dialysis can remove toxins at home, using a catheter that is inserted into their belly.

2. Kidney Transplant

Patients with kidney failure may need to look for prospective donors for a kidney transplant. The process of searching and screening for donors can take several months, but it could be the best life-saving treatment.

Patients with kidney failure may need to look for prospective donors for a kidney transplant. The process of searching and screening for donors can take several months, but it could be the best life-saving treatment. However, you cannot rely on just one donor, because a good match may not be found or the potential donor may be excluded from health issues such as hypertension. One option is to ask the nephrologist for paired organ donations where one donor gives an organ to someone else in exchange for a kidney for another patient. Some several facilities, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, help patients make arrangements for paired organ donations.

3. A Healthy Diet

If you have serious kidney problems, you must adjust your diet to prevent serious complications and preserve your health.

  • Limit your consumption of whole grains, as well as certain fruits and vegetables that could increase potassium or phosphorus levels.
  • Eat a low fat diet, especially if you have high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease.
  • Limit your intake of processed foods, refined foods and foods that are high in salt.
  • Limit protein intake.
  • Limit intake of foods that are high in calcium, phosphorus and potassium if your blood levels are above normal.
  • Take the recommended amounts of vitamins B complex, C and D.

4. Other Treatment

Depending on your symptoms and the complications with 20 kidney function, there’re more treatments which include:

  • Health supplements as recommended by your physician.
  • Phosphate binders, which are medications that help control blood phosphorous levels.
  • Treatment for anemia, which may include iron supplements, erythropoietin and blood transfusion.
  • Medications for high blood pressure.

More Questions About Low Kidney Function

Here are some questions patients with 20 percent kidney function or low kidney function often tent to ask.

1. Can I Exercise?

Yes, you can, as long as you follow an exercise program that is approved by your doctor to increase your strength and endurance. Exercise can also help reduce stress, depression and fatigue and can improve your quality of living.

2. Can I Travel?

Yes, you can, as long as your trip is included with arrangements for dialysis in the area you are visiting, medications you should take, and notifying the hospital staff how to reach you if you are on a transplant waiting list.

3. Will I Still Be Sexually Active?

Your desire for sexual activity may be lower as well as your interest in social activities. Inability to maintain penile erection(impotence) is common among patients with low kidney function or kidney failure. However, many kidney transplant recipients become more sexually active as their kidney function improves.

Watch this video to learn more about how to live and cope with low kidney function: