About Kidney Disease

What is Kidney Disease?

Chronic Kidney Disease is a condition in which your kidneys are damaged due to certain health conditions thereby reducing their functional ability. This happens gradually over time, usually months to years. As Kidney Disease progresses, it may eventually lead to Kidney Failure which is dangerous because the fluid, waste and toxic substances that are normally removed from the body by the kidneys, start to build up in the body. When this happens you will require dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life.

Kidney and urinary tract disease are very common health issues for the Australian community. Almost one million adults over the age of twenty-five years suffer from diabetes in Australia.

Stages of Kidney Disease

There are five stages of Kidney Disease with an increasing range of severity.
1. Slight kidney damage with normal or increased filtration;
2. Mild decrease in kidney function;
3. Moderate decrease in kidney function;
4. Severe decrease in kidney function; and
5. Kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplantation.

What kidneys do and why they fail

The kidneys don’t always get the respect they deserve. Maybe it’s because they’re relatively small and we simply take them for granted. But the kidneys are truly impressive and the more you learn, the more you’ll understand why you want to help keep them healthy.

Although the kidneys are relatively small (each one is about the size of your fist), when they are healthy, they process 100% of the body’s blood supply approximately every 5 minutes.

Kidneys perform many important functions

  • Cleaning wastes from the blood;
  • Managing fluid in the body;
  • Controlling blood pressure;
  • Making red blood cells; and
  • Balancing acidity and mineral composition.

Kidneys fail when they are no longer able to clean waste from the blood and balance fluid and mineral levels. Regardless of the cause of Chronic Kidney Failure, there is no cure. However, Haemodialysis or Peritoneal Dialysis can be a life-saving solution. Dialysis, along with certain medicines and a careful diet, does what the damaged kidneys can no longer do.  It removes the wastes and extra fluid from the blood. A Kidney Transplant is another option for some people with Kidney Failure. Researchers are hopeful that someday all causes of Kidney Failure may be prevented.

What it means to live with Kidney Disease

  • There is no cure for Kidney Disease – only treatments.
  • Long-time dialysis generates a series of side-effects and can shorten the life of kidney patients.
  • A kidney transplant is not a cure. The life span of a living donor kidney transplant on average is 12 to 20 years. A deceased donor kidney transplant is from 8 to 12 years.
  • A child with Kidney Disease can expect to need several transplants during their lifetime to survive.
  • Depression is a major effect of having Kidney Disease.
  • Loss of self-esteem, purpose in life, loss of independence and income.
  • The difficulties of Kidney disease and treatment can lead to non-compliance by kidney patients, such as not attending dialysis, not taking medications, not looking after themselves or ceasing dialysis.  Thinking, “what’s the point in all of this?”.
  • Kidney Disease affects the whole family whether the kidney patient is an adult or child.
  • Ceasing dialysis is a death sentence for the patient.

Kidney Quick Facts

  • One in three Queenslanders are at increased risk of Kidney Disease.
  • One in seven Queenslanders has early stage Chronic Kidney Disease.
  • A person can lose 90% of kidney function before noticeable symptoms arise.
  • Approx 500,000 Australians may have some form of kidney function impairment.
  • End-stage Kidney Disease is five time more prevalent in Australia’s First Peoples.
  • The most commonly transplanted organ in Australia is the kidney.
  • Without healthy kidney function, we may die.
  • Kidney patients on dialysis may need to visit a hospital renal ward 3 times per week, with dialysis sessions lasting up to 5 hours, plus travel time. As a result, renal patients are often disadvantaged financially, may become socially disengaged and may suffer emotionally.
  • Transport to hospital is expensive and impacts on Queensland Ambulance Service resources.

The KSN/CKSN programs and services definitely benefit kidney patients, both adults and children. They can provide a life-line of resilience, understanding, friendship and hope – chatting to someone, forming friendships, knowing that someone will be visiting the dialysis unit, massage, knowledge and information.

Are You at Risk?


Kidney and Urinary Tract Disease are very common health issues for the Australian community. One in three Australians are at increased risk of developing Kidney Disease.

Almost one million adults over the age of twenty-five years suffer from Diabetes in Australia. Only half of these individuals are aware that they have Diabetes. As the number of people with Diabetes grows, so will the number of diabetics developing Kidney Disease.

More than one third of our adult population have high blood pressure or hypertension. Hypertension affects the majority of patients with Kidney Disease and is the primary cause of Kidney Failure.

The risk factors for kidney disease

  • Diabetes;
  • Hypertension;
  • Family history of Kidney Disease;
  • Smoking;
  • Overweight;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent; and
  • Pacific Islander Ancestry.

Chronic Kidney Disease is a risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease which results in heart attacks and strokes. Cardiovascular Disease is the leading cause of death among patients with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Symptoms Check List

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should consult your doctor and ask that your kidneys be checked.

  • Blood in your urine or very dark urine;
  • Urine that is foamy or bubbly;
  • Swelling of your face, feet or hands;
  • Shortness of breath from fluid in the lungs; and
  • Unexplained fatigue, tiredness or weakness.

At Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure;
  • Diabetes;
  • Smokers;
  • Over 50 years of age;
  • Overweight;
  • Family history of Kidney Disease;
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent; and
  • Pacific Islander Ancestry.


Early Detection

Anyone can get Kidney disease. However, new research has created a great deal of interest through the possibility of diagnosing Kidney disease early and offering preventative treatment before the kidneys are completely destroyed. There are several tests that can detect Kidney disease. Your doctor can perform the initial testing procedures.

The two main causes of Kidney disease are Diabetes and High blood pressure or Hypertension.

Causes of Kidney Disease

  • Diabetes mellitus;
  • High blood pressure (hypertension);
  • Glomerulonephritis;
  • Polycystic kidney disease (PCKD);
  • Renovascular disease;
  • Chronic pyelonephritis;
  • Lupus erythematosus;
  • Kidney stones;
  • Urinary tract infections; and
  • Analgesic nephropathy and drugs.

Most of these conditions occur over a long period of time and cause damage to both kidneys. Even if further deterioration can be stopped the damage already done is usually permanent.

Early diagnosis and careful management of these conditions can delay and even prevent the onset of kidney failure. In many cases of chronic kidney failure no cause can be determined.

Don’t smoke as there is no safe level of smoking and it damages blood vessel walls.

Maintain your weight within a healthy range for your height with a well balanced diet. Regular moderate exercise of 30 minutes on all, or most, days of the week will also help control your weight.


Diabetes is the second most common cause of Kidney disease in Australia, with Diabetic Kidney disease developing in approximately one third of people with diabetes. One quarter of Australians either suffer from Diabetes or are at risk of developing it. As the number of people with Diabetes grows so will the number of diabetics developing end-stage kidney or renal failure.


Hypertension affects the majority of patients with Kidney disease and is the primary cause of kidney failure in 15% of renal patients Australia wide. Chronic Kidney disease is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease which results in heart attacks and strokes. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among patients with Chronic Kidney disease.

How can I look after my kidneys?

You can look after the health of your kidneys by having an annual check-up with a doctor which includes having:

  • Blood pressure checked;
  • Urine checked for blood and protein; and
  • Full kidney function blood test.


Patients who are experiencing Chronic Kidney disease usually have two choices of treatments. They can go on dialysis or have a transplant. These treatments usually commence when less than 10% of kidney function remains.


Dialysis is a treatment process that helps to replace the work of kidneys by cleansing/filtering the blood and removing excess fluids. Dialysis helps a patient feel better and live longer, but it will not cure kidney failure. However, this treatment has been proven to be effective and is currently used by more than 7,000 Australians.

There are two types of dialysis, Haemodialysis and Peritoneal Dialysis. In some cases the renal physician may recommend one over the other due to medical reasons, however, the choice is totally up to the patient.

Other factors that need to be considered when making dialysis choice include:

  • Place of residence and how often the treatment is required;
  • The impact of dialysis on a personal and family level; and
  • How the method fits into work, study, social life, leisure activities, business and holiday travel requirements.

Both forms of dialysis work equally well when carried out as instructed and, when the patient has taken measures to maintain their health as recommended by their physician. Patients are not required to commit permanently to one form of dialysis. In some cases, a patient may need to change over because of medical reasons. Each form of dialysis treatment lasts between 4-6 hours and is performed 3 times per week. In some cases, dialysis may last longer and need to be done more frequently.


Haemodialysis is a treatment where the blood is cleansed outside the body using a machine to temporarily rid the body of harmful wastes, extra salt and extra water. This can be performed at home, or in a satellite, self-care or hospital renal unit.


  • Can be performed at home to the patients convenience;
  • Involvement by patient, their partner and family;
  • It can be scheduled to fit into lifestyle; and
  • Reduced time spent in transit and in hospital.


  • Overcoming fear of needles and self-cannulation;
  • Self motivation;
  • Requires stable and supportive family or network of friends; and
  • Need to be medically stable.

Nocturnal haemodialysis: is a form of dialysis that is performed overnight at home. It usually takes up to 8 hours to complete. The advantage of this treatment includes:

  • Improved feelings of well-being;
  • Fewer medication and dietary restrictions; and
  • Reduced intrusion into daily life.

Note: This treatment is not available yet in Queensland hospitals, but it is currently being trialled.

The cost of haemodialysis in public hospitals and satellite units is covered by Medicare. Private treatments are covered by private health insurance. For home treatments, the cost of all necessary equipment is covered by the Government. Patients are responsible for the maintenance and safe storage of equipment. In some cases, the patient may have to pay for extra equipment such as a recliner chair and cost of plumbing.

Dialysis machines can put stress on water and power supply. However many local authorities do provide rebates and concessions for patients.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis  is a procedure that removes extra water, wastes and chemicals from the body. This type of dialysis works inside the body and uses the lining of your abdomen to filter your blood.


  • Continuous dialysis means that a steady blood chemistry is maintained;
  • Self care dialysis;
  • Simple to learn and perform (1-2 weeks training);
  • Minimal fluid and dietary restrictions;
  • No needle punctures required;
  • Ease of travel as it is compact and portable;
  • Minimal cardiovascular stress; and
  • Overnight Dialysis.


  • Peritonitis: inflammation of peritoneal membrane due to bacterial infection.
    Can be lowered by disconnecting delivery system and good hygiene.
  • Protein loss: body protein escapes through peritoneal membrane and into peritoneal solution.
    Can be combated by increasing protein intakes through diet.
  • Potential increase in fat and cholesterol: leads to narrowing of blood vessels.
    Can be overcome by doing regular exercise and taking medication.
  • Peritoneal catheter: a permanent access point in the body for dialysis.
  • Daily dialysis schedules.
  • Possible weight gain.
  • Storage space needed for supplies.

Kidney Transplant

Kidney Transplant surgically replaces the failed kidney with a healthy kidney from another person. In order for a transplant to take place, patients must be matched with a suitable kidney. If a family donation is not possible, patients are required to go on the waiting list. An average, successful transplant can grant survival for 15 years. This form of treatment provides a better quality of life and life expectancy than dialysis. However, transplant may not suit those with severe heart and vascular disease.

Possible complications after transplant

  • Rejection: The body resists foreign cells or tissue of donor kidney.
    – Symptoms: fever, decreased urine output, fluid retention and increase in weight, tenderness over the kidney and elevated blood pressure – most can be reversed with drug treatment.
  • Unsuccessful transplant: If the kidney doesn’t function, even after medical treatment, then it will be removed. Patients will resume dialysis and they are usually permitted to go back on the waiting list.

After a successful transplant, patients can return to normal activities within 3-6 months. Patients who wish to have a baby are advised that they should wait until at least 1-2 years of good kidney function as there is an increased risk of pregnancy issues such as premature births and hypertension in transplant patients. It is advised to discuss this with a doctor.

Life With Kidney Disease

Bethel O’Keeffe found out that she had kidney disease in her 20’s.

I lived in an environment with little medical support so it was hard to receive early treatment for kidney disease.

I first heard about Kidney Support Network (KSN) from going up to the hospital and dialysing and have been a strong KSN supporter ever since.

I commenced working for KSN as an Indigenous officer 5 years ago because I know how important early detection and education is to the Indigenous community. Most Indigenous people find out at end stage renal disease where there is little you can do.

A lot of people don’t want to know if they’re sick so are reluctant to get testing for Kidney disease. This is where I come in.

I get to travel and meet with other Indigenous people and help educate them with their food and lifestyle choices. Our biggest issue in the Indigenous community is education and early detection.

At first it’s hard, even for me, to break through to them but then they see I’m not going away and I care. Then they listen to what I have to say.

I have actually had people refuse treatment and take the kidney failure as a sign that they’re not meant to be here, a death sentence. I tell them my story and let them know there are many things you can do to help yourself and live a good life. I live a happy and good life and am thankful and grateful each day.  I have had the opportunity to talk to politicians and policy changers and it is my dream to extend KSNs’ Indigenous support Australia wide. Early detection and education is what saves lives.

KSN is an amazing grass roots organisation. It is one of the only organisations to really take care of everything with Indigenous and kidney patients. I love how it understands us as patients and wants to educate.

I had a kidney transplant that failed 8 years ago and am still awaiting another transplant.

KSN has helped improve my life greatly by giving me freedom with my dialysis, by standing side by side with me and helping me educate the Indigenous community. If I didn’t have KSN life would be very different. I could honestly say I would not have a life. It understands and cares as an organisation and it’s work is crucial to kidney patients. A lot of times staff at hospitals don’t have time to talk and explain things to you, KSN does.  I respect KSN for what it is doing and can see the difference it has made to the Indigenous population where we have worked.

Every time I get sick I say “I’ve got too much to do, I can’t go now, I’m on a mission”.

Organ Donation

There are almost 2,000 people on the national waiting list for organs and tissues. Some of them will die waiting. By being an organ donor, you are giving the gift of life. One donor can improve the lives of up to 10 people. To become a donor, please talk to your family and friends about your decision to donate. The decision to donate should be voluntary and free of feeling ‘pressured’.

You can register online at the Organ Donor Registry, or phone 1800 777 203.

Advantage of Living Donation

  • Reduces the time the patient has to spend on dialysis;
  • Transplant can be scheduled to suit donors and recipients;
  • A living organ can function immediately; and
  • Donations are generally more well matched if it is done by related family members. This reduces the amount of immuno suppressive medication the recipient has to take.

Who Can Donate

  • Donations can be from related relatives or an unrelated person;
  • Donors can be of any gender;
  • Donors must be an adult over 18 years of age; and
  • Donors must be in good health.

After a successful transplant, most donors recover quickly and can resume normal activities within 4-6 weeks. Activities such as sport will take longer. It is recommended that donors have annual blood pressure, blood and urine testing.

Having one kidney does not –

  • Affect the woman’s ability to have children;
  • Change life expectancy; and
  • Increase the risk of having kidney disease.

How successful are transplants?

As medicine continues to advance, the success rate of transplants continues to improve. However, there may be some complications that could occur such as rejection, surgical complication and the original disease that caused Kidney disease in the first place.

Other form of donations

  • Donating after death;
  • Blood or bone marrow;
  • Make a donation; and
  • Donate your time as a Volunteer.

The facts on organ donation

Most people think that death occurs when the heart stops beating. This is called cardiac death.  Death, however, can also occur when the brain stops functioning. This is called brain death. The way a person dies will depend on which organs and tissues can be donated.

Cardiac Death

Three things happen when cardiac death occurs.

  1. The heart stops beating and cannot be restarted.
  2. The person stops breathing.
  3. The brain then stops functioning because it has been starved of oxygen.

People who die in this way can donate tissues such as heart valves, bones, corneas and skin up to 24 hours after they die.

Brain Death

The same things occur when a person is brain dead but they occur in a different order.

  1. The brain stops functioning because it’s deprived of oxygen (as a result of injury and/or swelling).
  2. Breathing stops because the brain is dead.
  3. Finally the heart stops beating.  The person is dead.  He or she cannot recover.

Donate Organs

To be able to donate organs such as heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas, a person must be brain dead, on a ventilator (artificial breathing machine) and in hospital. Without a supply of oxygen from the ventilator, these organs would not be suitable for transplantation.

Click here! to learn more about organ donation and how you can save a life.

Inspiring Stories

If you have kidney disease, you are not alone!

Below is a collection of heartfelt stories from everyday people about their life with Kidney disease. These are stories about determination, love, loyalty and appreciation. They depict the hardship that patients have gone through and how they overcame these struggles to maintain a normal life. Through these stories we hope to provide an inspiration that can give strength and encouragement to others to continue fighting and to never give up hope.

KSN have compiled a DVD detailing the journey of Kidney Patients who have undergone a Kidney Transplant. If you would like receive a copy of our Inspiring Journey DVD, please call us on: (07) 3855 9781.

  • Little Luka’s Story

    The eight water bottles 19-month-old Luka Woodward used to take to day care would make any camel proud, jokes his mum Debbie, 34, from Shorncliffe in Brisbane. But behind the humour is an exhausted woman waking eight times a night to keep her son alive. ‘When Luka was first born he was a happy bouncing […]
  • Amanda’s Story

    Amandas’ kidney failure stemmed from the development of type-one diabetes. After being on dialysis for about 6 months she was able to receive her transplant in 2006. Amanda described the transplant experience as a “miracle”. The transplant has opened doors to new opportunities and allows her to live the normal life she has always dreamed […]
  • Bethel’s Story

    Bethel had a kidney transplant that failed 8 years ago, and is still on the transplant waiting list for another transplant. Her kidney failed due to urinary reflux. Bethel lived in an environment with little medical support so it was hard to receive early treatment for kidney disease. From her experience and hardship from suffering […]
  • Janelle’s Story

    Since age 10, Janelle has lived with Type I diabetes. This did not stop her pursuing a career as an opera singer and travelling the world. She sang full-time with the Australian Opera, Sydney, and Frankfurt Opera, Germany, before going blind at age 29 from the complications of diabetes. Returning to Brisbane, Janelle established Salubrious […]
  • Frank’s Story

    If you’d met Frank Vig, you might have described him as a gentle, diminutive, softly spoken and hard of hearing grandfather. You might also have known him as the co-founder of the Queensland Renal Association (now Kidney Support Network(KSN) or the man on the cover of the October 2009 KSN magazine – being celebrated at […]
  • Karl’s Story

    Karl was first detected with kidney disease in 1984. After 20 years of difficult, but good health management, he reached end-stage renal failure, when he was then undertaking renal dialysis. Three months later Karl was lucky to receive a kidney transplant. Upon receiving his transplant Karl endured a lot of setbacks in terms of health […]
  • Les’ Story

    Les’ journey started 15 years ago when he developed bladder cancer. This then developed into cancer in the kidney. With that kidney removed Les was living with one kidney for over 5 years. The cancer then spread to the other kidney. Les has been living on dialysis as a result of his second kidney being […]
  • James’ Story

    James had faced kidney complications over an extended period of time. It gradually led to a point where he was required to undergo dialysis treatment. Being on dialysis has greatly impacted James’ life. It is a period of time where life seems to have stopped.“ Basically, life revolves around dialysis 24/7”, he described. It was […]
  • Matty’s Story

    Matty was diagnosed with Kidney Disease at the age of 3. He received his first transplant at the age of 13. It was a live donation from his mother, therefore, Matty recalled things proceeded with less complication and emotional strain. “Everyone around me was telling me that, you know life will get better from here […]
  • Steve’s Story

    Steve is a transplant recipient who has been able to sustain a healthy kidney for the past 26 years. The result didn’t come without its own share of emotional and physical drawbacks. However, he hoped to share his experience to help give readers some insight about kidney transplant. The whole transplant procedure flies through relatively […]

Links & Resources

If you would like more information and clarification regarding Chronic Kidney Disease, please visit the link below. These are some useful links to organisations which specialise at providing information regarding Kidney Disease.

Renal Resource Centre

Renal Resource centre provides information about different forms of kidney disease, details options of available treatments and health tips for patients. They also provide specific information for Indigenous groups and patients from other cultural backgrounds.


Contacts: 1800 257 189 or email [email protected]

Kidney Health Australia

Kidney Health Australia provides information concerning Kidney Disease including risk factors and ways to prevent and treat kidney disease. They also have tips regarding travelling, caring for patients and managing your finances.


Contacts: 1800 454 363 or email: [email protected]

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

This is a useful website for specialised information and resources catering towards Australian Indigenous Health.


Contacts: (08) 9370 6336 or email: [email protected]

House Call Doctor

House Call Doctor provides bulk-billed home GP visits to Queenslanders, when regular clinics are closed. House Call Doctors are experienced in treating a broad range of patients, including those living with chronic kidney conditions.

Check our Website: https://housecalldoctor.com.au/ 

OR contact House Call Doctor direct:

Contacts: 13 55 66 or email: [email protected]

Donate Life

Donate life provides information about organ donations. It answers some common concerns in regards to donating and also provides options on ways to make a donation.


Contacts: (02) 6198 9800

Health Direct Australia