Managing the Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects of Chronic Kidney Disease – Palliative Care Can Help

By Jennifer S. Scherer, MD

Living with advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) presents many challenges. You may sleep poorly, feel weak or tired. Your skin can itch. Food tastes different, and you just don’t feel like eating much. It’s difficult to get around because your feet and ankles are swollen. All in all, it’s hard to get through the day and do many of the things you and your family used to enjoy. 

But you don’t have to go through this alone. There are ways to improve your quality of life. Palliative care can help. 

Palliative Care Focuses on Quality of Life

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with serious illnesses, such as advanced CKD. This type of care is focused on relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with other medical treatment. 

Palliative care teams are expertly trained to manage the symptoms, side effects, and stresses of serious illnesses like CKD. They will spend as much time with you as you need, talking to you about the symptoms you’re having, the side effects of treatments, and your goals of care. They can suggest ways that may help to ease symptoms and side effects. For example, using a thick moisturizing cream on your skin every day may relieve itching by keeping your skin from getting dry. Mind-body and relaxation techniques can help to relieve pain. 

Palliative Care Can Help You and Your Family

Your palliative care team understands that every patient and family is different. They can help you achieve your personal goals while living with CKD. If you’re feeling depressed and anxious, they can offer reassurance that this is normal. You are going through major life changes and facing decisions that will affect both you and the people you love. Your team will support you to make the choices that are right for you and your family. 

How to Get Palliative Care

If you are living with advanced CKD, ask your doctor for a palliative care referral. Palliative care is available in most hospitals and it is growing quickly in outpatient settings. In some areas, palliative care teams are available for home visits. You can also search this Provider Directory for palliative care resources in your area. There’s also an on-demand webinar you can listen to where I talk about ways to address pain and itch related to kidney disease, and much more information on GetPalliativeCare.org.

COVID-19 Safety Reminder

As someone with a serious illness, it’s important that you keep following health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19. The virus is still circulating and you may have more than one risk factor that could lead to severe complications if you catch this infection. The virus is spread through person-to-person contact, via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even simply talks. It’s not always clear if someone is infected, so the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advises that individuals in higher risk groups maintain health and safety practices. These include proper and frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer, wearing face coverings in public, and physical distancing with anyone outside of your immediate family circle. Visit the COVID-19 information pages at GetPalliativeCare.org to learn more. 

Jennifer Scherer is an assistant professor of clinical medicine at NYU School of Medicine in New York, in both the divisions of Palliative Care and Nephrology. Her clinical and research interests focus on the care and quality of life of patients with advanced kidney disease that integrate palliative care into routine nephrology care. She opened an outpatient interdisciplinary palliative care program at NYU called the Kidney CARES (Comprehensive Advanced Renal Disease and ESRD Support) Program.

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