Living with chronic kidney disease? Palliative care can help

If you have chronic kidney disease, you know that managing your symptoms and keeping to your treatment plan is hard on you and your family. Palliative care can help you cope by giving you an added layer of support.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illnesses like kidney disease. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family by treating the symptoms and stress of the disease. Palliative care is provided by a team of palliative care doctors, nurses and other specialists who work closely with your other doctors. It is appropriate at any age and any stage of your illness, and it can be given alongside all your other treatments.

The symptoms of kidney disease can be a heavy load to carry. Kidney disease affects your body’s ability to clean your blood, filter out extra water and control your blood pressure. When your kidneys are damaged, waste products and fluid can build up in your body causing symptoms like pain, depression, anxiety, swelling in your ankles, nausea and vomiting, weakness, sleeplessness and shortness of breath. You could also develop other problems like high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage.

As experts in complex symptom management, your palliative care team will work with you, your family, your kidney doctor and any other of your specialists to manage your symptoms in a way that gives you the best quality of life possible. Your kidney doctor will continue to treat your kidney disease, while your palliative care team looks at the big picture: making sure that you not only stick to your treatment plan, but that you feel well and in control.

As your disease progresses, palliative care can also help you and your family to understand your treatment choices and make difficult decisions about what kind of care you want. In advanced disease, treatment choices are usually dialysis or kidney transplant. Dialysis removes waste products and fluid from the blood. It is usually carried out in the hospital three times a week, and each session lasts several hours. Dialysis is not an easy decision to take, because it can come with serious side effects and can even shorten life for people with other conditions. Your palliative care team will help you understand and balance the risks so that you can make the choice that is right for you and your family. If you’re able to have a transplant, your palliative care team will also be there for you every step of the way.

Don’t wait to ask for palliative care. It’s available at any stage of your disease, and the sooner you get the support, the better. Palliative care is available in the hospital, in outpatient clinics and in some areas, for home visits. Talk to your doctor about a referral to palliative care. You can also search for providers in the Palliative Care Provider Directory.

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