The kidneys filter and remove waste from the blood. Kidney disease occurs when the nephrons (functional units inside the kidney that filter the blood) are damaged. When a person has evidence of kidney damage and/or reduced kidney function for longer than 3 months, this is referred to as chronic kidney disease, or CKD. CKD is often called a ‘silent disease’ as up to 90% of kidney function can be lost before symptoms appear. As a result, many people are unaware that they have the condition.

CKD is usually categorised into 5 stages according to the level of kidney function and evidence of kidney damage, indicated by biological markers such as blood or protein in the urine. When a person’s kidney function has deteriorated to the extent that kidney replacement therapy (KRT)—a kidney transplant or dialysis—is required for a person to survive, this is referred to as end-stage kidney disease (ESKD). Not all people with ESKD receive KRT. Decisions on whether to begin KRT take into account people’s prognosis, assessments of their anticipated quality of life (with or without dialysis), treatment burdens and the preferences of the patient and their families.

CKD is largely preventable, as many of its risk factors are modifiable—such as high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, overweight and obesity, and impaired glucose regulation. Further, simple tests of a person’s blood and urine can identify most cases of CKD when the disease is in its early stages, enabling treatment to prevent, or slow down its progression. Many of the risk factors for CKD also apply to other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (including coronary heart disease and stroke) and diabetes which, in turn, are risk factors for CKD.

The AIHW undertakes national surveillance and monitoring of a number of prominent chronic conditions, including chronic kidney disease, along with their comorbidities and associated risk factors. The AIHW seeks to enhance the evidence on the impact of chronic conditions, including chronic kidney disease, through these monitoring activities by providing information and advice, addressing key policy priorities and filling key information gaps.