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High Blood Pressure and Chronic Kidney Disease

High blood pressure does more than raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. It’s also a leading cause of chronic kidney disease, or CKD.

putting on comfortable shoes with swollen ankles
Updated August 21, 2023

By Brett Rosenthal, DO, Nephrologist — Virtua Nephrology

You’ve heard that high blood pressure greatly heightens your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. But did you know that it can also harm your kidneys.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD), the gradual loss of kidney function. Knowing you have high blood pressure, and working with your health care provider to manage it and other risk factors, can help keep your kidneys healthy and running strong.

How Hypertension Harms the Kidneys

Healthy arteries are flexible, strong, and elastic. Their inner lining is smooth so blood flows freely. High blood pressure damages that inner lining, allowing plaque to accumulate. Eventually, the vessels become narrowed and hardened, limiting blood flow.

Your two kidneys each contain about 1 million tiny, finger-like nephrons that filter your blood. Salts and minerals your body needs are reabsorbed into the bloodstream, while waste products are removed through urine.

When the arteries leading to your kidneys are damaged, they are unable to deliver essential oxygen and nutrients to the nephrons filtering your blood. If some nephrons stop working, others can compensate. But as more cease functioning, the remaining nephrons can no longer keep up. Dangerous levels of fluid and toxins can build up, leading to kidney failure and even higher blood pressure.

Know the Signs of CKD

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 37 million Americans have CKD. Ninety percent, however, don’t know it because they feel fine or attribute their symptoms to another condition.

One of the first signs is edema, or swelling in the legs, feet, or ankles as the body is unable to get rid of extra fluid and salt. As the disease progresses, a person also may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Changes in urination
  • Blood or excessive bubbles in the urine
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle cramps

Keep Your Kidneys Working Their Best

The best way to prevent CKD is to manage the conditions that can damage your kidneys, including hypertension and diabetes.

This may include a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, including a heart-healthy diet, physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and managing stress.

Don’t wait until you experience symptoms to get screened for CKD. The earlier we can diagnose CKD, the more we can do to preserve your kidney function.

Speak to your health care provider about the steps you can take to maintain your kidney health.

Enhancing Your Kidney Health

Concerned about your kidney health? Take our kidney health quiz to see if you would benefit from meeting with one of our specialists.

To make an appointment with of Virtua Nephrology’s board-certified specialists, call 856-325-3341.