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Glossary

Medical terminology and abbreviations can make learning about kidney disease can seem daunting. Here is a glossary of key terms that can help you expand your kidney care knowledge.

A

Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (ACE inhibitor) 

Medicine used to treat high blood pressure. ACE inhibitors can also help prevent or slow kidney damage.

Acute 

Rapidly developing; severe; short duration.

Acute renal failure 

A sudden and severe decrease in kidney function that may be short term.

Albumin 

A protein in blood plasma that acts as a carrier and helps to maintain blood volume and blood pressure.

Albuminuria 

A condition in which albumin is present in the urine. There are filters in the kidneys that prevent large molecules, such as albumin, from passing through. If these filters are damaged, albumin passes from the blood into the urine.

Albumin creatinine ratio (ACR) 

A test that compares the amount of albumin in the urine with the amount of creatinine. It is used to detect whether albuminuria is present.

Allograft 

An organ or tissue transplant from one person to another.

Alport syndrome 

An inherited condition that results in kidney disease. It generally develops in childhood and is more serious in boys than in girls.

Analgesic-associated kidney disease 

A condition in which there is a loss of kidney function due to long-term use of analgesic (pain-relieving) medications. Analgesics that combine aspirin and acetaminophen are most dangerous to the kidneys.

Artificial kidney 

A filtering device that is used to remove excess fluid and waste products from the body. Also known as a “dialyzer” or a “hemodialyzer.”

B

Biopsy 

A procedure in which a tiny piece of a tissue from a body part, such as the kidney or bladder, is removed for examination under a microscope by a pathologist.

Bladder

A sac in your body that holds the urine (pee) produced by the kidney.

Blood flow rate 

The rate at which the patient’s blood is pumped through the artificial kidney during dialysis.

Blood pressure

The force of blood pushing against the inner walls of the blood vessels. High blood pressure means the force is too high.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)

A way to measure the combination of waste products (nitrogen and urea) in the blood normally excreted by the kidneys.

C

Cadaveric donor 

Someone who has died and whose tissues or organs, such as kidneys, have been donated for transplantation into another human.

Chronic

Health conditions that persist for a long period of time or recur often.

Chronic disease

A disease or disorder that lasts many years (or forever) and may get worse over time.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) 

A term used widely to describe kidney damage or reduced kidney function (regardless of the cause) that persists for more than 3 months. Sometimes CKD leads to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to keep a person alive.

Chronic renal (kidney) failure 

Damage to the kidneys that is usually progressive in nature and cannot be reversed, reducing the filtration and waste removal functions of the kidneys.

Creatinine

A chemical waste product that is released into the blood when muscles contract. It is filtered through the kidneys when kidney function is normal. High levels of creatinine may be an indicator of kidney disease. 

Cross-matching 

The testing of blood and tissues to check the compatibility of a donor’s kidney and a person in need of a kidney transplantation.

D

Diabetes

A disorder in which the body cannot make insulin or cannot use it properly. Insulin is a hormone that controls how much sugar is in your blood.

Dialysate 

A solution consisting of water and chemicals (electrolytes) that passes through the artificial kidney to remove excess fluids and waste products from the blood. Also called “bath.”

Dialysate flow rate 

The rate at which dialysate flows through the dialyzer.

Dialysis

A procedure that filters waste products and extra water from your blood. It is one of the main treatments for kidney failure.

Diuretic 

A type of medicine that helps the body get rid of extra fluid. Having too much fluid in the body can raise blood pressure.

Dry weight 

The weight of a dialysis patient when excess fluid has been removed. Also known as “ideal weight.”

E

Edema 

Swelling or puffiness due to the buildup of excess fluid in the tissues, which is most noticeable in ankles, hands and face. It occurs in dialysis patients as a result of excess fluid intake or decreased ultrafiltration.

End-Stage Renal Disease

The last stage (stage five) of chronic kidney disease (CKD). This means kidneys are only functioning at 10%–15% of their normal capacity.

Fistula 

A type of access that is created by surgically joining an artery and a vein so that the vein enlarges due to the flow of arterial blood. 

G

Glomerular filtration rate (GFR)

A measure of kidney function. It tells you how well your kidneys work.

Graft 

The surgical placement of a material between an artery and vein to create a circulatory access for hemodialysis. Graft can also refer to a transplanted kidney.

H

Home Hemodialysis

Home dialysis is any method of dialysis that is done in your home.

Hypertension

Also known as high blood pressure. Occurs when the force of blood pushing against the inner walls of the blood vessels is too high.

Hemodialysis 

The removal of excess fluids and waste products by passage of blood through an artificial kidney.

Heparin 

A “blood thinner,” or anticoagulant, that is given in hemodialysis to slow clotting time in order to prevent blood from clotting in the lines or dialyzer.

Hypertension 

High blood pressure.

Hypotension 

Low blood pressure.

I

Inherited

Something you were born with and get from your mother or father, like red hair or blue eyes.

Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) 

An X-ray of the urinary tract. A dye is injected into the body to make the kidneys, ureters and bladder visible on the X-ray and show any blockage in the urinary tract.

K

Kidneys

Two bean-shaped organs in your body. Kidneys clean the blood, help make red blood cells, and keep bones healthy.

Kidney disease

The loss of some kidney function. It means your kidneys cannot work as well as healthy kidneys. Kidney disease can be treated.

Kidney failure

The loss of all kidney function. It means your kidneys have stopped working. You will need a kidney transplant or dialysis treatment for the rest of your life.

Kidney stone 

A stone that develops from crystals that form in urine and build up on the inner surfaces of the kidney, in the renal pelvis or in the ureters.

Kidney transplant 

When a healthy kidney from a person is placed in someone else whose kidneys have failed. A kidney transplant can come from a living donor or from someone who has just died.

Kt/V

Clearance x time / volume. A measurement that indicates how well waste products have been removed by dialysis treatment.

L

Lithotripsy 

A method of breaking up kidney stones using shock waves or other means.

Living donor 

A person who donates an organ while they are still alive.

Lupus nephritis 

Inflammation of the kidneys caused by an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. The condition can cause hematuria and proteinuria and may progress to end-stage renal disease.

M

Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) 

The use of nutrition to help control chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease. MNT includes working with a dietitian to make healthy changes to a person’s diet.

Membranous nephropathy (MN) 

A disorder that hinders the kidneys’ ability to filter waste products from the blood because of harmful deposits on the glomerular membrane. Some cases of membranous nephropathy develop after an autoimmune disease or malignancy.

N

Nephrectomy 

The surgical removal of a kidney.

Nephrologist 

A doctor who specializes in kidney disorders.

Nephropathy 

Any disease of the kidney.

Nephron 

A unit of the kidney that maintains the body’s chemical balance. There are approximately one million nephrons in each kidney.

Nephrotic syndrome 

A collection of symptoms that indicate kidney damage. Symptoms include high levels of protein in the urine, a lack of protein in the blood and high blood cholesterol. 

O

Organ

A part of your body that does an important job. For example, the heart, kidneys, and liver are organs.

P

Peritoneal Dialysis

A form of dialysis in which the lining of the abdomen, the peritoneal membrane, acts as a natural filter. It is the most common method of at-home dialysis

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

Cysts that form in the kidneys. They can interfere with healthy kidney functions. Over time and left untreated, PKD can lead to kidney failure.

Proteinuria 

The presence of too much protein in a person’s urine.

Pruritus 

A condition in which a person’s skin is severely itchy.

R

Red blood cells

Cells in your blood that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.

Renal 

Relating to the kidneys. For example, a renal disease is a disease of the kidneys.

Renal cell carcinoma 

A type of kidney cancer.

Renal cysts 

Abnormal fluid-filled sacs in the kidney that range in size from microscopic to much larger. Many simple cysts are harmless, while other types can seriously damage the kidneys.

Renal replacement therapy 

Another name for dialysis, a treatment option for people with kidney failure that involves removing waste and excess fluid from the body.

S

Struvite 

A mineral found in kidney stones that were caused by an infection.

 T

Tissue typing 

Matching the blood cells of a potential transplant recipient with the blood cells of potential donors.

Toxin 

A waste product in the blood or any substance that is poisonous.

Transplant

An operation to put a healthy organ in your body.

U

Ultrafiltration 

A process used to remove excess fluid from the blood during dialysis.

Ureters

Two tubes that carry urine (pee) from the kidney to the bladder.

Urethra

A tube that carries urine (pee) out of the bladder when you go to the bathroom.

Urinary system (also called “Urinary tract”)

A system in your body that includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. It acts as a plumbing system to drain urine (pee) from the kidneys, store it, and then release it when you pee.

Urinalysis 

A test of a urine sample that can reveal many problems of the urinary system and other body systems. The sample may be observed for color, cloudiness and concentrations; signs of drug use; chemical composition, including sugar; and the presence of protein, blood cells, germs or other signs of disease.

Urinary tract 

The system that takes waste products from the blood and carries them out of the body in the form of urine. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, renal pelvises, ureters, bladder and urethra.

Urinary tract infection 

An illness caused by harmful bacteria growing in the urinary tract.

Urinate 

To release urine from the bladder to outside the body.

Urine 

A liquid waste product that is filtered from the blood by the kidneys, stored in the bladder and expelled from the body through the urethra by the act of voiding or urinating.

W

Waste products 

Substances that are formed from the breakdown of protein in foods and from normal muscle activity.

Wegener’s granulomatosis (WG) 

An autoimmune disease that damages the blood vessels and causes disease in the lungs, upper respiratory tract and kidneys.

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