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Managing pain in patients with kidney disease

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Pain, both acute and chronic, is commonly prevalent in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). This is due to the myriad diseases that often coexist in kidney disease patients (like arthritis, diabetes, obesity, etc). I had earlier written a post on how certain painkillers adversely affect the function of the kidneys. So we know that many pain medications are bad for your kidneys. We also know that even if some pain medications are not directly toxic to your kidneys, they can still accumulate in your body and affect other organs in patients who have kidney disease. It saddens me when patients with pain come to my office after being told that they can't take a particular pain medication because "their kidney numbers have worsened". Granted that could certainly happen; but not coming up with an alternative and leaving patients "marooned" is also a disservice to them. What then could be some viable options for patients with kidney disease to deal with their pa…

How do some over-the-counter pain medications cause/worsen kidney disease? How can patients with kidney disease treat their pain?

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The fact that a number of painkillers are available freely over-the-counter (OTC) often gives a lot of people a false sense of security about the safety of these medications. A statement that I here from some of my patients is, "it was available without a prescription, so I thought it wasn't too strong". So very often, patients assume that if a medicine is not too potent, it probably does not have serious side effects either. Sadly, a medication's potency is not necessarily proportional to its side effect profile.

HOW DO PAIN MEDICATIONS DAMAGE THE KIDNEYS: EFFECTS ON KIDNEY FUNCTION
Pain medications can have different renal effects. These can range from reversible, short term reductions in kidney function due to a decrease in the blood supply to the kidneys (called Acute Renal Failure, or Acute Kidney Injury), to a more chronic disease where the kidneys shrink in size, develop a rough and bumpy surface, and demonstrate tissue breakdown called "papillary necrosi…

Creating a human kidney in the lab to treat kidney failure: Reality or Star Trek?

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I look at the artificial kidney that I talked about in my last post as a sort-of futuristic automaton. It can work (in principle) on the body's internal power (the blood pressure) and does not require the frequent tweaks (again, in principle) that are required with conventional dialysis; thus giving patients more freedom with their lives.

However, the technology that really has the trans-humanist in me jumping up and down with excitement is the promise of regenerating a "natural" human kidney in the lab. In Greek mythology, Prometheus' liver would regenerate even after an eagle nibbled on it every day, all while the poor fellow lay chained to a rock (he was lucky the eagle didn't mess with his kidneys, which don't quite possess the same regenerative capacity!). My fantasy is not quite the same, but what I had always conceptualized is that with the advances in regenerative medicine, we might be able to just play God, and "make a kidney", a real huma…

Is a vegan or vegetarian diet better for patients with kidney disease?

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Over the last few decades, we have seen the accumulation of evidence that supports the health benefits of plant-based diets. Vegetarian diets have been shown to be associated with a lower incidence of obesity, hypertensiondiabetes, and coronary artery disease. Since all these entities are risk factors for chronic kidney disease (CKD), it might be reasonable to assume that these diets might actively reduce the risk of CKD development and progression. However, at the very outset, let me emphasize that any diet, vegetarian or not, comes with the same restrictions that are advised for patients with CKD. For instance, potassium intake might need to be restricted in advanced CKD. Fruits, a significant portion of the vegetarian diet, are an important source of potassium, and will need to be appropriately restricted. So you have to watch what you eat regardless. More importantly, you owe it to yourself to know what exactly is there in the food that you eat.

Environmental Toxins That Cause Kidney Disease and Failure

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Toxins present in the environment are a common but under-appreciated cause of kidney disease and kidney failure. Environmental causes typically include chemical agents (eg. heavy metals), physical agents (eg. high temperature/heat, dehydration), and biological/infectious agents (eg. malaria, HIV etc). Here is an overview of some exposures and their sources that you should be aware of:

Can certain herbal medications treat chronic kidney disease (CKD)? Is alternative medicine the cure for CKD?

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I set off to try and answer this question after one of my patients whom I saw at my Bradenton clinic brought along an article that claimed that "nettle leaf lowers creatinine level in the blood". This by extension would mean that it could perhaps cure CKD? I was quick to admit that not once during my typical "western medicine" training had I heard of that claim. To me, CKD had always been this inexorable malady that can be, at best, controlled or slowed down from progressing further. "Cure" is not a word that gets thrown around a lot when you talk about CKD. As I had discussed earlier, once kidney function declines chronically, it can typically not be regained.   
But I do try to have an open mind, the good old scientific temper and all that. So rather than dousing disdain over my patient's excitement, I tried to look for evidence to see if the article's claim was indeed true.

How do physicians check your kidneys' function?

Most people know that getting a stress test is a way to test your heart's function. But how do you test your kidney function? You might have heard doctors mention words like "creatinine", or "GFR" when checking how good or bad your kidneys are doing. Although there are a lot of methods by which the kidneys' performance can be measured, I will explain the ones that are used most often in clinical setting