GFR and the 5 Stages of CKD Made Simple

In layman’s terms, CKD and GFR are a measure of kidney function. The Kidney Experts blog post will help you understand what these two measurements mean for your health and how to monitor them in the future.

It’s estimated that over 26 million people in the United States have chronic kidney disease (CKD)—that 6% of the U.S population over age 20 has CKD, often without knowing it.

CKD is a progressive condition, and if left untreated it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or death. The good news? There are proven treatments for CKD!

It all starts with a healthy kidney. The kidneys are the body’s natural filter, removing excess water and waste products from the blood to maintain fluid balance.

When they don’t work properly, it can lead to an accumulation of toxins in your body that can cause serious health problems. When the kidneys lose their ability to remove wastes and fluids as they should, it creates the condition called chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Kidney Image in Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
Kidney Image in Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

CKD is a progressive condition that leads to end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which requires dialysis or transplantation for treatment. CKD is a disorder of the kidneys that causes them to gradually lose their ability to function.

GFR stands for Glomerular filtration rate and it measures how much blood your kidneys are filtering each minute.

It is important to understand what stage of CKD you are in and how your GFR relates. Chronic kidney disease is a condition that occurs when the kidneys do not work properly for an extended period of time. The stages are divided into five categories.

Brief Descriptions of the 5 Stages of CKD based on GFR

  • Stage 1 – Normal kidney function (GFR greater than 90)
  • Stage 2 – Mild loss of kidney function (GFR between 60 up to 90)
  • Stage 3 – Moderate loss of kidney function (GFR between 30 up to 60)
  • Stage 4 – Severe loss of kidney function (GFR between 15 up to 30)
  • Stage 5 – End-stage renal disease (ESRD, GFR less than 15)
Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) based on Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR)
Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) based on Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR)

The first stage of chronic kidney disease is the “normal” state. In this category, there are no symptoms and your GFR remains at a healthy level. There are no risks associated with being in this stage for an extended period of time.

Chronic kidney disease can also exist as a mild decline in renal function (stage two). Most people are typically without symptoms at this stage as well. The GFR is between 60 up to 90.

Chronic kidney disease can also exist as a moderate decline in renal function (stage three). Again, most people are without signs or symptoms at this stage. The GFR is between 30 up to 60.

The final stages of these diseases are classified as stage four and stage five. In these cases, people will typically be experiencing severe health problems caused by their kidneys. While stage four is characterized by a GFR between 15-30, ESRD means that your GFR has dipped below 15 – generally less than five years after diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms of CKD stages four and five include

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the lower extremities (feet and ankles) and abdomen.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight gain or weight loss.
  • Loss of appetite (in advanced cases)
  • Insomnia, itching, and nausea
  • Having uncontrolled hiccups that don’t improve with fluid intake
  • Metallic taste in the mouth that feels like you are sucking on coins

A person with CKD stage four and five might also experience depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders. There may be a change in the color of urine from clear to dark (very pale straw-colored) because it is not being filtered properly by the kidneys. Sometimes people can have anemia because their GFR decreases and they are losing more red blood cells than normal. In addition, there could be problems with digestion due to reduced kidney function such as constipation or diarrhea. Other symptoms include numbness or tingling around your mouth; dizziness; ringing in the ears; nausea that doesn’t improve on its own; excessive sweating together with an increased thirst which suggests dehydration.

An ESRD patient will likely need dialysis treatment. There are many types of dialysis and the type someone receives will depend on their age, medical history, kidney function, other health-related problems they have, and more. Other options include hospice care in this population for the right patients.

As the GFR declines, so does the kidneys’ ability to perform their basic functions of filtering waste from the bloodstream and maintaining proper electrolyte balance. While there can be many reasons why CKD occurs (ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure), the most common cause is long-term damage to the nephrons in our kidneys due to high levels of protein in our urine.

In conclusion, chronic kidney disease is a progressive condition that may not require dialysis.