Life with kidney disease

Kidney disease can affect many areas of your life, but there are ways of coping with the changes it brings.

Whether you have mild kidney disease with no or few symptoms, or you're on dialysis because your kidneys have failed, life with kidney disease can be challenging.

These challenges will vary depending on your age and the severity and cause of your kidney disease. The following issues concern people most often.

How to keep fit with kidney disease

Don't be scared to exercise. Regular physical activity is good for anyone with kidney disease, however severe. Exercise will not only boost your energy, help you sleep, strengthen your bones, ward off depression and keep you fit - it may lessen your risk of heart disease.

If you have mild to moderate kidney disease, your ability to exercise shouldn't be reduced. You should be able to exercise as often and as vigorously as someone the same age as you with healthy kidneys.

If your kidney disease is more advanced or you're already on dialysis, your ability to exercise is likely to be reduced, and you may become breathless and tired more quickly.

But don't be deterred - exercise is still beneficial. Make sure you start slowly and build up gradually. Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise programme.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

How to make the most of time-consuming kidney treatments

If you have mild kidney disease or you've had a transplant, treatment for your condition probably won't take up much of your time, other than regular visits to the GP surgery or hospital.

If you're on dialysis, however, treatment will be time consuming. If you include travel and recovery time, hospital or renal unit dialysis takes up most of the day for three days each week.

"Loss of time, freedom and the restriction caused by regular hospital treatment are the top complaints of dialysis patients," says Tim Statham of the National Kidney Federation (NKF).

"The key to coping well is to be positive about treatment and to find a useful or fulfilling way to spend your time while on dialysis. This might be reading, listening to language tapes or doing specially adapted fitness exercises," he says.

Home dialysis may be possible, and many people find it much more convenient than hospital dialysis. At the moment, only 1 in 100 haemodialysis patients has treatment at home. But kidney experts say many more (10-12%) are eligible. If you think you're suitable, ask your consultant or nurse for more information.

Read Paul's experience of hospital dialysis.

Watch Heather's experience of home dialysis.

Sex and pregnancy with kidney disease

If you have mild to moderate kidney disease, it's unlikely that your condition or its treatment will affect your sex life or your chances of having children.

But women and men with kidney failure may have sexual problems, and may find it more difficult to have children.

"It's important for both men and women to seek help for sexual problems such as loss of sex drive and erection problems, as they can often be fixed," says kidney consultant Professor Donal O'Donoghue.

"I'd advise young women who want children to discuss this with their doctor as early as possible so they can be informed, helped and supported in their plans."

The NKF has helpful information on sex problems and renal failure.

How kidney disease affects holidays and insurance

If you have mild kidney disease or you've had a transplant, going on holiday shouldn't pose additional health problems, whether you're staying in the UK or going abroad. The British Kidney Patient Association can support people with kidney disease wanting to get away for a break.

If you're on dialysis, you can still enjoy holidays provided you book your treatment before you go away. If you want to travel to another part of the UK, discuss your plans with your renal unit as early as you can so they can arrange dialysis at a unit close to your destination.

In many parts of the country, the lack of facilities restricts the freedom of patients to travel, but Dialysis Freedom runs a holiday dialysis "swap" scheme to help with dialysis availability in other areas.

If you're going abroad, it can be easier to arrange dialysis at short notice as some overseas centres have more facilities, although holiday destinations may get booked up early.

The NHS will look after you if you get ill while on holiday in the UK. If you're in Europe, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to free or reduced-cost hospital treatment.

It's a good idea to take out holiday health insurance in addition to carrying the EHIC. Anyone with kidney disease should declare it as a pre-existing medical condition on standard insurance application forms. It may exclude you from some policies.

The NKF website has advice on holiday insurance for people with kidney disease.

Work and kidney disease

Kidney disease is unlikely to affect your working life unless you have advanced kidney disease or you need dialysis. If you need dialysis, the dialysis unit will generally do its best to arrange your treatment times to fit in with your working schedule.

Some people can adapt their job to fit around dialysis, whereas others prefer to give up work completely in the short term. Talk to your employer as soon as you know you will need dialysis to see if you can arrange flexible or part-time working to allow you to continue your job.

If you prefer, the social worker attached to the renal unit can talk to your employer about your treatment for you.

Read more about living with kidney disease.

Article provided by NHS Choices

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