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Can I live a normal life with kidney disease?

Being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be a shocking and distressing experience. But have hope. You can live a satisfying life with CKD, just as millions of people are currently doing. In fact, one in nine Americans is living with kidney disease today. Once you’ve accepted your condition and learned to take control of your health, you can go on to experience a new “normal,” filled with all of the small and large joys that make for a rewarding life.

I’ve just been diagnosed with CKD – now what do I do?

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD), chances are you’re feeling a range of emotions. Each person handles the news differently, but very often, those with CKD struggle with a variety of feelings:

  1. The first thing you will probably feel is shock. You think that this couldn’t possibly be happening to you. You may start to feel removed from the world around you, and you may find it difficult to think clearly, especially about the subject of your illness.
  2. The next stage is often grief. In a sense, the “old you” is now gone, and you’ve become someone who must adapt to living with CKD. You are dealing with a loss, and it is normal to feel helpless about your situation.
  3. Once you’ve passed through the grieving stage, you may find yourself in denial. It may seem like the diagnosis is just too big to handle – so you don’t handle it, you ignore it.
  4. Often those who are coping with a major illness go through a period of feeling extremely angry. You may feel as though this is a low blow, that you don’t deserve to be saddled with a chronic illness.
  5. After a time of struggle will come acceptance. You’ll be ready to learn more about kidney disease and the lifestyle changes you’ll need to make to maintain your health. You’ll be ready to move forward.

It is important to understand that whatever you feel is okay. You’ve been handed some life-altering news, and it is only natural that it will take time for you to adapt to it. Accept your feelings, whatever they are. At first, you may find yourself on an emotional roller-coaster, experiencing different feelings every day, or even throughout the day. This is a good time to take it one day at a time.

Talking about how you feel is healthy, and it can help you feel better. Communicate with your family and friends and accept their support. In addition, there are many resources for those with kidney disease, including doctors, nurses, dietitians and social workers. You may even seek out your clergy leader or therapist. They all have experience with people who have been in similar situations as yours and will be able to guide you along your path. There are also support groups where you can meet people who share many of the same concerns and challenges.

Eat kidney-friendly foods

Eating kidney-friendly foods and cutting back on sodium and protein can have a big impact on your health. Your renal dietitian will help you figure out a diet plan that is just right for you.

If you used to enjoying going out to eat before you had kidney disease, you still can. Watching what you eat doesn’t mean you have to avoid dining in restaurants. Enjoy a nice meal with family and friends just takes a little planning ahead so you won’t jeopardize your kidney diet.

Begin by calling the restaurant or looking online for their menu so you can get an idea of the types of food that’s served. If you’d like to make a special request, be sure to phone the restaurant at least 24 hours in advance.

On the day you’ll be dining out, be mindful of what you’re eating for lunch and breakfast. You may want to eat a little less and also cut back on the sodium and protein you consume throughout the day. If you are on a fluid restriction, you might also want to drink less during the day to allow for more beverages with your restaurant meal. Realize that restaurant portions can be much larger than what you are used to eating. Request a smaller portion, or take some of your meal home in a doggie bag.

Socializing and enjoying physical activities

A well-balanced life is one that includes physical activities and socializing. Having kidney disease does not mean that you have to give up the fun things in life. Exercising is one way to keep your body strong and vital. It can also help relieve stress and help you sleep better.

Turn to your health care team for help choosing an exercise plan or sport that suits your abilities and preferences. Ask them what the frequency and intensity of your exercise plan should be. Then focus on exercising on a regular basis to maintain your health and boost your energy level.

Traveling with kidney disease

Being a dialysis patient does not mean you have to miss out on the fun of traveling. A vacation can be just the thing to help you unwind from the stressors of daily living, and some experts believe that feeling happy can actually boost your immune system.

There are dialysis centers located all over the globe, making it easier than ever to get the dialysis you need to maintain your health while enjoying time away from home.

Begin by choosing a destination and the dates for your trip. The social worker at your hometown dialysis center can help you make plans. Ideally, you should contact this individual at least one month in advance of your trip. Note that some dialysis centers, including many located in popular destinations such as Hawaii, Florida, California and Arizona, require notice at least 3 months in advance. Consider also the time of year when you’ll be traveling. For instance, if you want to take your family to Disneyland at Christmas, you may have to make arrangements six months or more before your trip. In general, the more lead time you have, the better the chance that you’ll find a center to conveniently accommodate your schedule.

Your social worker will provide you with a list of things you’ll need to bring with you on your trip. Be sure to take enough of your medications with you on your trip, along with a letter from your health care provider stating that you need to carry these medicines with you.

What you need to know now about sexuality, fertility and kidney disease

If you have kidney disease, your body and emotional state are going through changes that may affect your sex life. CKD impacts your hormones, circulatory system and nerve function. You may find you have less energy for sex and less interest in it. Some medications cause unwanted side effects, including weight gain and acne. As your body changes physically, you may not feel as attractive. All of these physical and emotional variations can lead to less desire for sex, so it is good to be aware of this possibility.

You should talk to your partner and explain that the changes in your body, and the resulting changes in self-image, are not a reflection of your feelings for your partner. Even if you do not enjoy the same kind of sex life that you once had, there are many ways to express your feelings for your partner and maintain a sense of closeness.

Sometimes kidney patients and their significant others worry that having sex can be physically harmful. If you are on dialysis, you can have sex, just be careful not to place pressure on the access site. If you’ve received a kidney transplant, you’ll need to wait for the doctor to give you the go-ahead. Once your scar has healed, you should be able to resume your sex life. Sex causes no danger to the transplanted kidney. Whatever your particular situation, don’t be afraid to bring your questions about sex to your health care provider.

If you are considering having a child, it’s important to know that women on dialysis can usually not get pregnant due to a lack of menstrual periods. If a woman on dialysis does get pregnant, her health and her child’s health may be put at risk and both will be monitored closely. A woman who has had a kidney transplant will have a better chance of getting pregnant since she is likely to be having more regular periods and is in better health, overall. If you’ve had a transplant, your doctor may recommend that you wait at least a year before getting pregnant. In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you avoid pregnancy altogether.

It is easier for men with kidney disease to become parents, since men who are on dialysis or who have had a transplant are able to father children. If you and your partner have been trying for at least one year to get pregnant with no success, you may want to seek the advice of a fertility specialist.

Six steps you can take to live a richer life

  1. Empower yourself by being proactive about your health. Learn all you can about kidney disease and its treatment.
  2. Follow a kidney-friendly diet. Be mindful of the fluids you’re consuming if you are on a fluid restriction.
  3. Find an activity or exercise program that works for you, so you can improve your stamina and boost your energy level.
  4. Take your medications on schedule and according to directions. Note any side effects and alert your health care provider.
  5. Don’t forget to do the things you love to do. Visit with friends, go out to dinner and take regular vacations.
  6. Stay positive. A good attitude is vital for a good life.

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