Kidney disease is a potentially fatal condition, and early detection is vital to preventing serious complications or death. Kidney disease can run in families, or can result from a medical condition, like hypertension, or a trauma or injury to the kidney. A kidney disease diagnosis typically involves several different tests, including blood work, urinalysis, and imaging tests. A kidney biopsy may also be required to determine the cause of any damage.
The kidneys are vital organs that perform a crucial role in keeping the blood clean and chemically balanced. Waste from the body is filtered out through the kidneys and expelled from the body as urine. When kidney function declines, waste builds up in the body and can lead to serious complications. An early kidney disease diagnosis can help prevent further breakdown of the organs.
Blood work is one of the first diagnostic tools used in a kidney disease diagnosis. The test looks at the levels of two waste products: creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Creatinine is produced through use of the muscles, while BUN forms when protein breaks down.
High levels of these chemicals are usually the first indicators of a problem with the filtration system within the kidneys. The blood test may also check the “estimated glomerular filtration rate,” or eGFR, which measures the rate at which the kidneys are filtering creatinine.
A urinalysis is typically performed at the same time as the blood test. Urine is collected midstream or via a catheter to avoid contamination and is analyzed by a lab technician. The presence of red or white blood cells or protein in the urine indicates kidney damage. Fully functioning kidneys filter out these large particles and keep them in the blood. If the kidneys are not filtering properly, blood and protein can pass through the filtering devices and enter the urine.
Imaging tests such as a computed tomography (CT) scans, ultrasounds, or x-rays are used as kidney disease diagnosis tools when a blockage is suspected. Blockages can occur from injury to the kidneys or from clogging of the arteries leading into the organs. Imaging tests can also be used after a diagnosis is made to determine the severity of the disease.
A kidney biopsy is usually performed after a kidney disease diagnosis is made, and can help determine the cause of the problem. During the biopsy, the doctor removes a small section of the kidney using a biopsy needle and imagining technology. The sample is analyzed in a lab to reveal the extent and nature of the damage. Kidney biopsies can also help determine if a particular treatment is working.