Kidney health myths debunked

Does alcohol damage your kidneys? Is it possible to live with just one kidney? Can kidney disease be cured? Understand the facts about kidney health.

Myth: Kidney disease is rare

It may not get talked about much but chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects around 3 million people in the UK.

CKD is an umbrella term for different conditions that damage the kidneys. Lots of people live well with CKD for a long time. But it can have some serious complications and may lead to kidney failure – fortunately that is not common.

Myth: If you had chronic kidney disease (CKD), you’d know

Sometimes people think the word ‘chronic’ means a condition is severe. But it actually just means it’s long-term.

CKD usually progresses slowly and you may not notice any symptoms for a long time, until your kidneys are significantly damaged.

Mostly myth: Kidney damage is caused by drinking alcohol

There are lots of things that can cause kidney damage (diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common).

Drinking too much alcohol doesn’t directly damage your kidneys. But it can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes, which can damage them. Drinking in moderation from time to time shouldn’t be a problem, though – your kidneys can cope with small amounts of alcohol.

Fact: Drinking lots of water may keep your kidneys working well

It’s important for your overall wellbeing to drink enough fluids, and government guidelines suggest adults aim for around six to eight glasses a day.

Drinking enough water helps flush out the crystals that can stick together and form kidney stones, and it helps wash out the bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can affect your kidneys.

As a general rule, pale yellow pee means you’re drinking enough. If it’s dark, you need to drink more fluids.

There are some people who need to limit their fluid intake, though, including those with kidney failure and heart failure – so if you have one of these conditions, check with your doctor about what’s right for you.

Mostly myth: Kidney stones lead to kidney disease

Kidney stones are common, affecting one in 10 people. They happen when waste products in your blood form crystals that collect in your kidneys and may clump together. You’re more likely to get them if you don’t drink enough fluids or have certain medical conditions. If you have small stones, you may just pee them out without even noticing. But bigger kidney stones can cause nasty symptoms, including pain and vomiting.

A kidney stone may temporarily affect kidney function. Sometimes, that effect on function continues and raises the risk of CKD. But the link isn’t clear-cut because kidney stones and CKD share some of the same underlying causes. For example, being overweight and having diabetes raises the risk of both kidney stones and CKD.

Myth: CKD can be cured

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for CKD and treatment is usually aimed at easing symptoms. But you can take steps to stop it getting worse, including:

  • losing weight if you need to
  • quitting if you smoke
  • cutting salt intake to less than 6g (1 teaspoon) a day
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • staying active – aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week
  • keeping your alcohol intake under 14 units a week
  • avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen, which can be harmful if you already have CKD

If you’re diagnosed with CKD, your healthcare team will talk to you about anything else that’s important for you to do to stop it getting worse. This includes managing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Myth: AKI always leads to CKD

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is diagnosed when your kidneys rapidly stop working properly (over hours and days), usually as a result of another serious illness. In fact, AKI is likely to affect people who are already in hospital with something else.

Most people with AKI recover from it with treatment, but sometimes it can cause long-term damage and lead to CKD. It’s worth knowing, too, that CKD is one of the conditions that can trigger AKI in the first place.

Myth: CKD is genetic – so it can’t be prevented

Research suggests people with a certain genetic makeup may be at raised risk of CKD. But not everyone with these genetic variations develops kidney problems. And some people with CKD don’t have these genetic variations.

In reality, the picture is more complicated than that. Underlying conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, are common causes. Lifestyle factors – like your diet, activity level and whether you smoke – are also connected to your risk of CKD, as well as your risk of developing the underlying conditions linked to it.

Myth: You need two kidneys to live

Not true! You can live a normal, healthy life with just one kidney.

There are a few reasons you may have a solitary kidney. 1 in 1000 people are born with just one. Others have to have one removed for health reasons, and some people donate one of their kidneys to a family member, friend or stranger.

Most of the time, having a solitary kidney should not cause any problems, although your doctor may want to monitor your kidney function and blood pressure. Some people born with a solitary kidney never even find out they only have one. You don’t normally need to have a special diet or lifestyle (your healthcare team will tell you if you do).

A solitary kidney is different to a single-functioning kidney, which means you have two kidneys but only one of them works well.

AstraZeneca has contributed to the funding of this material as part of a Patient Advocacy Group Partnership between Kidney Care UK and AstraZeneca UK Limited. AstraZeneca has had no editorial input into or control over the content which has been independently owned and created by Kidney Care UK.

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