Parents of kids who are diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease have many questions about what might happen next, how their child might feel, and what treatments are likely to be involved.
Read on to learn about treatments for kidney disease and what parents can do to help.
Treatment begins with diet modification and medicines. Your child may need to take several medicines, including vitamins, calcium, bicarbonate, and blood pressure pills. As a result, medication management can be a major challenge.
If your child has difficulty remembering to take medications, consider getting a medicine clock, which has two cardboard clocks — one for each 12-hour period — with a picture of the medicines posted on the the times they need to be taken. These clocks can provide valuable cues for kids who need to take several doses of different medicines throughout the day and evening. Also, alarms can be set to remind kids to take their medicine.
If your child must take so much medicine that it affects his or her appetite, contact your doctor for advice. Try to find the most acceptable forms of medicine (smaller pills, capsules, or more concentrated liquids, for example) and simplify the medication schedule under your doctor's guidance.
Injectable medicines are available for treatment of anemia and growth failure in some kids with chronic kidney disease. Erythropoetin can increase the red blood cell count, which often improves energy and activity levels in kids with kidney failure. Many kids with chronic kidney disease will grow more normally with the help of human growth hormone injections.
Children with chronic kidney failure may not have any symptoms until about 80% of their kidney function is lost. Then, they may feel tired, have nausea or vomiting, have difficulty concentrating, or experience confusion. Accumulated fluid appears as swelling in the skin, fluid congestion in the lungs, and high blood pressure. At this stage, two treatment options are available — dialysis and transplant.
Nearly all kids with end-stage kidney disease eventually receive transplants. If a living related donor can't be found, dialysis may be required until a donor kidney becomes available.
The two forms of dialysis are hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis:
Both types of dialysis, but particularly hemodialysis, require that diet be limited with regard to fluids, phosphorus, and salt intake. With fewer dietary and fluid restrictions, peritoneal dialysis can mean more lifestyle flexibility, and children tend to grow better.
Needs of kids with chronic kidney disease often include dietary changes. Ensuring that they get adequate calories and proper amounts of various nutrients can be a challenge. Supplementing your child's diet with extra carbohydrates and fats might help to increase calorie intake.
The kidneys cannot easily remove excess water, salt, or potassium, so their intake might need to be limited. Dairy products have to be restricted because they contain lots of phosphorus. Too much phosphorus may lead to calcium deposits in the eyes, heart, skin, and joints and may leach calcium from bones, which can increase the risk of broken bones.
But eliminating dairy foods can make it difficult for kids to get enough calcium to maintain bones and support other body functions, particularly those affecting growth.
In kids with more severe kidney failure, reducing the intake of dairy products and other protein-rich foods (such as meat, fish, or eggs) can make the filtering work of the kidneys easier and can sometimes delay the need for dialysis. While avoiding excessive protein intake is advisable and will also help limit phosphorus intake, it's important to remember that kids do need enough protein for growth — so strict protein restriction (the kind recommended for adult patients) should not be used.
You'll also need to monitor fluid intake. If your child's ability to produce urine is declining, fluid intake needs to be limited. Stay away from "super-size" drinks, and offer slushy beverages or ice cubes to suck on.
Some kids with kidney disease, particularly those with high blood pressure, may need to restrict their intake of sodium, which is found in table salt and many foods. Be careful of salt substitutes, too. Many salt substitutes have potassium in them, too much of which can cause problems for kids with kidney failure. Some other salt preparations (for example, "natural salts," Himalayan salts, etc.) are just as high in sodium chloride as common table salt.
Read food labels and talk to your doctor or a dietitian about the sodium content of various foods. Consult your nephrologist about an appropriate diet that meets your child's need for calories and nutrients while minimizing damage to kidneys and avoiding other complications.
Exercise will help your child perspire to get rid of excess fluid and flush out toxins through the skin. Keep TV and video games to a minimum and encourage physical activity instead. Walking and strength training make bones stronger and stimulate muscles and nerves that can help ease "restless leg syndrome" and other nervous system problems sometimes associated with kidney disease.
Beyond these physical concerns, kids should be encouraged to express their feelings. Try to find well-adjusted young adults who had chronic kidney disease during childhood to talk with you and your child. You may find contacts and support groups through your nephrologist or the National Kidney Foundation. It's important for kids to see that the symptoms of the disease can be managed and controlled and that they can live a full life.
Kids whose health is stable should be encouraged to participate as fully as possible in school and activities, which will help them develop their self-esteem.
During hemodialysis treatments, doing homework, reading, and working on art projects are some positive ways to spend the time. (One pediatric dialysis patient said she appreciated the special lunches her mother prepared before her treatments, when she could ease up a little on the protein, sodium, and potassium restrictions.)
As kids with chronic kidney diseases get older, they can take on more responsibility for their own care. School-age kids should know the names of their medicines and how and when they're taken. As they're making the transition to adulthood, teens can share in the responsibility of making appointments. Teens should also have time alone to speak with the doctor and other members of the health care team.
A big step for kids is being able to talk to others — such as teachers, coaches, and friends — about their condition. Teens especially don't want to stand out or seem different. Part of the process of learning and maturing will be identifying limitations and knowing when to ask for help.
Kids with chronic kidney disease might also have problems dealing with the side effects of medicines. For those taking prednisone for long periods of time, these effects can be significant, including weight gain (especially around the face and trunk), moodiness, sleep disturbances, cataracts, and osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). Long-term treatment with these medications also can slow growth and delay pubertal maturation.
Long-term prednisone treatment can lead to or aggravate acne in teens. To an adolescent dealing with body image, a clear complexion might be just as important as controlling the kidney disease.
Besides the stress of having a chronic illness, your child is going through all of the trials and tribulations of growing up as experienced by all kids. Treat him or her as a child first, which includes establishing standards of behavior. Sometimes, those standards have to be relaxed or suspended during particularly difficult times; the trick is picking them up again after your child's health improves.
Keep the lines of communication open so everyone knows what's happening and never hesitate to ask for help from your doctor or a mental health professional if you think it might be needed.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014
|National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases This group conducts and supports research on many serious diseases affecting public health.|
|National Kidney Foundation (NKF) NKF seeks to prevent kidney and urinary tract diseases, improve the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increase the availability of all organs for transplantation.|
|Nephron Information Center The Nephron Information Center offers information about how the kidneys work, transplants, and links to other sites.|
|American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP) The AAKP serves kidney patients and their families by helping them cope with the emotional, physical, and social impact of kidney failure.|
|Kidney Disease Sometimes, the kidneys aren't able to do their job properly. Other than kidney infections, the two most common kidney conditions among teens are nephritis and nephrosis.|
|What's the Deal With Dialysis? Have you ever heard the word dialysis and wondered what it was? Find out in this article just for kids.|
|Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections and Related Conditions Recurrent urinary tract infections can cause kidney damage if left untreated, especially in kids under age 6. Here's how to recognize the symptom of UTIs and get help for your child.|
|Managing Your Medical Care Visit our center on managing your medical care for advice on how to get involved in taking charge of your health and choosing the right health care providers.|
|Kidney Transplant If the kidneys stop working, a person will need either dialysis or a transplant. Get the facts on kidney transplant in this article for teens.|
|When Your Child Needs a Kidney Transplant If your child needs a kidney transplant, you're probably feeling lots of emotions. Fortunately, many kids who undergo kidney transplants go on to live normal, healthy lives.|
|Chronic Kidney Diseases Kidneys are about the size of your fist and shaped like beans. What happens when this important pair of organs doesn't work well? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Kidney Diseases in Childhood The kidneys play a critical role in health. When something goes wrong, it could indicate a kidney disease. What are kidney diseases, and how can they be treated?|
|Glomerulonephritis With glomerulonephritis, tiny filtering units in the kidneys stop working properly, causing problems like too much fluid in the body and swelling. Most of the time it can be treated. Find out more.|
|Kidney Stones Kidney stones mostly happen to adults, but sometimes teens can get them. Find out what kidney stones are, how to treat them, and ways to help prevent them.|
|Caring for a Seriously Ill Child Taking care of a chronically ill child is one of the most draining and difficult tasks a parent can face. But support groups, social workers, and family friends often can help.|
|Giving Teens a Voice in Health Care Decisions Involving teens in their health care can help prepare them for managing it on their own as adults.|
|Kidneys and Urinary Tract The bean-shaped kidneys, each about the size of a child's fist, perform several functions essential to health. Their most important role is to filter blood and produce urine.|
|Kidneys and Urinary Tract The kidneys perform several functions that are essential to health, the most important of which are to filter blood and produce urine.|
|Your Kidneys You need at least one kidney to live. Find out why in this article for kids.|
|Glomerulonephritis Glomerulonephritis happens when tiny filtering units in the kidneys stop working properly. Most cases get better on their own or with treatment.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.