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Can I work with kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) will make an impact on your life. There are changes that you will likely make for the sake of your health, but that doesn’t mean your life has to come to a standstill.

If you have been recently diagnosed with CKD, one of the things you may be wondering is if you’ll be able to continue working with kidney disease. Each person’s situation is unique, but many people with CKD find they do not have to give up their jobs. When you first begin dialysis, you may need to be away from your job for a brief period. If you are scheduled for a kidney transplant, then you will need to take a longer period off from work.

If you are considering applying for disability payments, keep in mind that they are not likely to match the income you make on the job. In addition, your job supplies more than just a paycheck – it provides a chance to interact and socialize with others, it may offer you medical insurance coverage and it adds a positive focus and sense of purpose to your day. Also, continuing to work can add to your feeling of normalcy and help you feel more like yourself.

If you are currently working, it is probably better to keep your job. You may need to talk to your employer about making some adjustments. For instance, you might need a more flexible schedule to go to dialysis or to take more breaks during the workday if you feel tired. Depending on your particular job responsibilities, you might even be able to work from home.

If you are going to do peritoneal dialysis (PD) in the workplace, you’ll first need to talk to your supervisor and get permission. Next, you will need to determine where at work you are going to do the exchange. Find a spot that provides privacy. It will need to be a clean place where you can store your supplies and do your exchanges without being interrupted. If you feel unsure about doing PD at work, ask your dialysis nurse for advice.

When making the decision about if and when to go back to work, start by talking to your health care provider. Don’t be afraid to discuss your fears and concerns. Many other people have faced the same challenges and your health care team can offer suggestions and solutions for you. The best approach for anyone with CKD is to get all the facts. Being informed is a way of empowering yourself and helps you to make good decisions so you can have a good life.

Challenges of working with kidney disease

Many people with kidney disease find that they can successfully perform in the workplace. However, you must always be sure that your health remains your top priority. Here are some tips for staying healthy while working:

  • Always eat according to a kidney diet plan that supports your health
  • Bring phosphate binders and other medicines to work so you can take them as scheduled
  • Never neglect your dialysis treatments

Sometimes in the midst of a busy day, it’s easy to forget these important steps to good health. If necessary, set up reminders for yourself in your datebook or on your computer. Schedule your medicines and dialysis just as you would schedule any work-related task.

How anemia affects your ability to work

If you have chronic kidney disease, you may also have anemia, a condition that results when red blood cell levels fall below normal ranges. A major factor in the development of anemia in those with CKD is the diseased kidneys’ inability to produce erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone which stimulates the production of red blood cells in your bones. Fewer red blood cells carrying oxygen throughout your body can lead to a feeling of extreme tiredness.

Along with fatigue, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Hair loss
  • Looking pale or “washed out”
  • Heart palpitations (racing heart)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness

If you are feeling tired, ask your provider what steps you can take to feel better. There are simple tests that can be done to determine if you have anemia. If you are diagnosed with anemia, this condition can be managed with medicine. Once your anemia has been discovered and treated, you’ll start feeling better and find that you are better able to perform your job.

Your tiredness may be caused by something other than anemia, including a sleep disorder or problems with medications or fluid management. Don’t think that feeling tired is just something you have to put up with. Schedule an appointment with your doctor so you can get to the root of the problem and find a treatment that helps you feel more energetic.

What if my current job no longer works for me?

If your current job is not able to provide you with what you need to support your health, or if it involves physical labor, you might consider looking for a position that better suits your needs now. If you decide that working is not going to be possible at all, consider developing another activity that provides satisfaction. For example, maybe you would like to volunteer in your community. Volunteering is a way to give back that offers a sense of accomplishment while providing interaction with others. It also can add some routine to your life, which many people find very helpful.

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