Kidney Disease | Western Cape Government

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Kidney Disease

Kidney Disease

Your kidneys perform an important function in your body. All the blood in your body passes through your kidneys several times a day. Your kidneys filter your blood and remove waste, and salt, water, and minerals are adjusted if needed. 

Kidney disease, also called chronic kidney failure, is the gradual loss of this key kidney function. If your kidneys are damaged, dangerous levels of fluid and wastes can build up in your body and lead to heart problems, an increased risk of other diseases.  Irreversible kidney damage may cause you to have to undergo a kidney transplant.  


What is kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease means your kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood the way they should. This leads to waste building up in your body and complications such as high blood pressure, anaemia, and heart and blood vessel disease.


The damage to your kidneys happens slowly over a long period, for that reason, there are few signs or symptoms during the early stages of kidney disease. Sometimes chronic kidney disease may not even become apparent until your kidney function is significantly impaired. It is therefore important that you visit your doctor for check-ups regularly.

If you have advanced chronic kidney disease, the symptoms will include:

  • chest pain
  • dry skin
  • itching or numbness
  • feeling tired
  • headaches
  • increased or decreased urination
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle cramps
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • sleep problems
  • trouble concentrating
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

People with chronic kidney disease can also develop anaemia, bone disease, and malnutrition.

Kidney DiseaseWhat causes chronic kidney disease?

Diseases and conditions that cause chronic kidney disease include:

  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Glomerulonephritis an inflammation of the kidney's filtering units (glomeruli)
  • Interstitial nephritis, an inflammation of the kidney's tubules and surrounding structures
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Continued obstruction of the urinary tract, from conditions such as enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers
  • Vesicoureteral reflux, a condition that causes urine to back up into your kidneys
  • Recurrent kidney infection also called pyelonephritis

People who are most at risk of getting kidney disease include:

  • Those with diabetes mellitus and hypertension.
  • Individuals who are obese or smoke.
  • Individuals over 50 years of age.
  • Individuals with a family history diabetes mellitus, hypertension and kidney disease.
  • Patients with a presence of other kidney diseases.

How to prevent kidney disease

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you prevent kidney disease. This includes:

  • Reduction of high blood pressure.
  • Control of glucose, blood lipids, and anemia.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Increase your physical activity.
  • Maintain healthy body weight.
  • Eating healthy.
  • Receiving the appropriate treatment from your doctor.

Kidney Awareness Week

Kidney Awareness Week from  2 to 6 September highlights the importance to have one’s kidney functions checked early before chronic kidney disease sets in. According to the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa, kidney failure in South African adults is mainly due to inherited Hypertension (60-65%) or Type 2 Diabetes (another 20-25%). Both diseases can be prevented, diagnosed early and properly treated.

For more information

To find out more about kidney disease visit the National Kidney Foundation website.


The content on this page was last updated on 2 September 2019