Often, it comes out of the blue. You felt fine. But the doctor said they found protein in your urine. Or that you have high levels of creatinine in your blood. That your biopsy confirmed you have kidney disease.
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And now you’re wondering what happens next. What’s it going to feel like living with IgA nephropathy or C3G?
“A lot of times, people have kidney disease and don’t even know it,” says nephrologist Jonathan Taliercio, DO. “Particularly if you’re living with mild or moderate kidney disease, you could be totally asymptomatic.”
But over time, your kidney disease may worsen, and you may find that you start feeling the effects of living with kidneys that aren’t pulling their weight anymore.
Or maybe you won’t. Not everyone who has IgA nephropathy (IgAN) or C3G will have a worsening of their kidney disease. For some people, it can clear up on its own with time. For others, their disease will be kept well in check by medication.
But if symptoms start to rear up, it can help if you know what to expect ahead of time. Dr. Taliercio explains what symptoms you may expect when you’re living with IgA nephropathy or C3G and how to slow the progress of kidney disease.
Stages of kidney disease
Kidney disease severity is classified into five different stages. Each stage is associated with your estimated glomerular filtration rate, a measure of how well your kidney filters substances. Stage 1 is very mild, while stage 5 is kidney failure — when your kidneys have failed or are close to failing. Stage 5 is the time when your provider will recommend beginning dialysis or seeking a kidney transplant, if those are your wishes. (Note that you can be eligible to join the National Kidney Transplant Waiting list when you have stage 4 kidney disease.)
Dr. Taliercio says many people won’t have any symptoms of kidney disease until they reach stage 5. But some people may notice symptoms beginning in stage 3.
“Oftentimes, the symptoms you feel associated with kidney diseases like IgA nephropathy or C3G come from a buildup of toxins that your kidneys can no longer clear out, which tend to not be noticeable until you reach kidney failure,” Dr. Taliercio notes.
Symptoms of kidney failure
Kidney failure can feel different for different people. Among the most common symptoms are:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue).
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Confusion or trouble concentrating.
- Swelling (edema), particularly around your hands, ankles or face.
- Cramps (muscle spasms).
- Dry or itchy skin, or rashes.
- Poor appetite and unintentional weight loss.
- Blood in your urine.
- Uncontrolled hiccups.
Slowing the progress of kidney disease
For some people, IgA nephropathy or C3G progresses quickly. For others, the disease moves slowly over a longer period of time. Early diagnosis can give you and your provider more opportunity to help slow the progress of the disease.
Your kidneys do a lot of work that impacts your whole body. So, managing IgAN or C3G is often a matter of managing other conditions that pop up as a result of reduced kidney function.
“One of the most common complications of kidney disease is high blood pressure,” Dr. Taliercio states. “Managing your blood pressure is very important to slowing the loss of kidney function.”
Other conditions associated with IgAN, C3G and other kidney diseases include:
- Low red blood cell count (anemia).
- Weak and brittle bones.
- High potassium (hyperkalemia), which affects your heart’s ability to function correctly.
- High phosphorus (hyperphosphatemia).
- Acid buildup (metabolic acidosis).
Lower kidney function puts you at higher risk for the above conditions, and, if not controlled, may require you to start dialysis sooner.
After being diagnosed with IgA nephropathy or C3G, you should visit your provider regularly to assess your kidney function, as well as your overall health. If you’re living with a chronic condition or are at risk of developing one, your provider will likely prescribe medications and suggest lifestyle changes, like certain adjustments to your diet and exercise routine, to manage those conditions and lessen the burden on your kidneys.
Following a low-sodium diet can also help to lessen the burden of kidney disease on the rest of your body.
No one wants to live with kidney disease. No one wants to have to consider a future of dialysis or having a transplant. But if you’ve been diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, C3G or another kidney disease, talk with your provider about any steps you can take to slow its progression and minimize its effects on your life.