How to Cope and More

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a lifelong condition and requires medical treatment. The stress of living with a chronic, progressive condition can affect your mental health.

Managing CKD requires vigilance, and your mental health is a factor. Conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder can worsen your symptoms. They may also make it harder to follow your treatment plan or practice the healthy habits you need to live well with CKD.

People with CKD may also experience cognitive decline, and researchers are conducting studies to see how the conditions are related.

It’s important to seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional to manage your mental health and well-being. There are also ways you can improve your outlook in your everyday life to make coping with CKD easier.

The relationship between CKD and mental health works in both directions. CKD can affect your mental health, and your mental health can affect your CKD.

Researchers are trying to find the connections between the kidneys and the brain to find out more about how CKD can impact mental well-being.

There’s research that suggests that cognitive impairment such as dementia could relate to circulatory system damage that affects the kidneys and brain.

There isn’t a definitive connection between CKD and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, though these often occur together.

You may experience mental health changes because of the stressors associated with CKD. These may include:

  • the logistics and cost of treatment
  • restrictions to your lifestyle or working life
  • the need to rely on others
  • living with CKD symptoms or complications
  • uncertainty about your health or future

Those with more advanced CKD or end-stage renal disease (ESRD) may find that the demands of their treatment worsen their mental well-being.

Mental health conditions can also impact your physical health. Stress, anxiety, and depression can:

  • alter your sleeping and eating habits
  • raise your blood sugar and blood pressure levels, which can impact kidney health
  • impact how you cope with and follow your CKD treatment

They may also impact your overall quality of life, contribute to CKD progression, and increase your risk of hospitalization.

There are several mental health issues common in people with CKD. These include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • substance use disorder
  • cognitive impairment, including dementia

Anxiety

Anxiety may occur as a response to stress. Many people have some anxiety, such as a fight, flight, or freeze response to stressful situations. But for some people, anxiety can become severe and require treatment.

If you feel constantly stressed or on edge and it interferes with your daily life, it might be time to get treatment for anxiety.

One study found that 45.7 percent of participants with CKD receiving hemodialysis experienced anxiety and 30 percent of them still had it 16 months later.

Your anxiety may be general, or it could also be circumstantial. For example, you may experience anxiety around specific triggers, and this could lead to a panic attack.

Anxiety symptoms can differ from person to person and depend on the type of anxiety disorder you have. Common symptoms may include:

  • feeling nervous, tense, or jumpy
  • rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • restlessness or irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble falling or staying asleep

Depression

Depression is common in people with CKD. The risk of depression is three to four times higher in people with CKD than in the general population.

As many as 100 percent of those with ESRD may experience depression. You may be more susceptible to depression if you receive dialysis for your CKD.

A constant low mood or loss of interest in daily activities or interests may be signs you have depression. Other symptoms of depression include:

  • feelings of despair
  • changes in your weight or appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • inability to concentrate

You should seek the help of a mental health professional if these symptoms last for several weeks. You should also seek immediate help if you have suicidal thoughts.

Substance use disorder

Some people may turn to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs to cope with symptoms of untreated mental health conditions or because of CKD symptoms.

Overusing these substances can worsen CKD and other related health conditions. Substance use can also impact your life in other ways, such as with loved ones or at your job.

You may take several medications if you have CKD, and these can be affected by the use of alcohol or drugs. To avoid worsening your CKD, talk with your doctor about your substance use.

Cognitive decline

Cognitive decline may affect your ability to think, remember, learn, or speak.

You could experience cognitive decline if you have CKD. This can include dementia. Cognitive decline conditions can result in the inability to complete daily activities and a need for increased medical care.

Risk factors for cognitive decline includes:

  • older age
  • tuxedo
  • heavy alcohol use
  • cardiovascular disease
  • head injury

Depression may also be a risk factor for cognitive decline.

Cognitive decline needs to be monitored by a doctor. You and your family members may need to determine the level of care you need to manage both cognitive decline and CKD.

It may be hard to ask for help with mental health issues, but it’s important if you’re living with CKD.

Mental health conditions can impact your quality of life and worsen your CKD. You may adopt unhealthy habits if you have trouble managing your emotional well-being.

Your condition may progress if you ignore mental health conditions, which could require more treatment or hospitalization. As CKD progresses, it can lead to kidney failure.

Reaching out to someone regarding your mental health is a positive step in living with CKD. There are many ways you can find the help you need:

  • Ask your doctor to recommend a mental health professional such as a psychologist or counselor.
  • Discuss the need for help with a social worker.
  • Ask a friend or family member for a referral.
  • Post on a social media or community group website for referrals.
  • Contact your insurance provider for a list of mental health professionals.
  • Do an internet search for a list of mental health professionals.

You may need to try a few professionals before you find the right one for you.

There are a variety of treatments for mental health issues, including different therapy methods and medications.

You may benefit from such therapies as:

  • talk therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • mindfulness

Medications vary based on the type and severity of your mental health condition. Your doctor or a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist will prescribe medications. They’ll need to consider the other medications you take for CKD or other health conditions when deciding on the right treatment for you.

Both therapy and medication may take time to improve your outlook, but reaching out for help will get you started on the right path.

While seeking professional help for serious mental health issues is vital to managing your CKD, you also need to take care of yourself at home. Taking time to practice self-care and healthy habits may help you manage both your mental health and CKD.

Here are some ways you can focus on your well-being if you’re living with CKD:

  • Exercise regularly at a level comfortable to you and recommended by your doctor.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes foods that are good for your kidneys.
  • Get enough sleep for your body to rest, rejuvenate, and stay strong.
  • Express your thoughts and feelings to friends or family, a support group, or in a journal.
  • Read articles and books that offer helpful advice about your emotional well-being.
  • Join a support group, whether online or in person.
  • Stay organized about your CKD care. Learn as much as you can about the condition and keep your appointments, paperwork, and medications organized.
  • Build a life outside of CKD, such as taking up new hobbies or making plans with family and friends.
  • Frame your thoughts in positive ways instead of negative ones.

It’s very important to take care of your mental health if you live with CKD. Practicing healthy routines and habits are good places to start making sure you’re emotionally well.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor, another health professional, or a family member or friend if you feel like you may need more help.

Your mental and emotional wellness is a vital component to your physical wellness. There are many ways you can cope with CKD. Use as many tools as you need for your mental health.

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