Working With Chronic Kidney Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2023 | Last updated: May 2023

Millions of people prove every day that those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) can earn a living even while managing a serious health condition. Still, there are challenges to working and getting the care you need to stay as healthy as possible.1

One in 7, or 37 million, adults in the United States live with kidney disease. About half are of working age, or ages 18 to 64. Most people with early stage CKD do not know they have it, thus they are working.1,2

CKD can make work challenging

The 6 months before moving into stage 5, or end-stage kidney disease, is when many people lose their job. This happens because symptoms begin to interfere with work at this point. Symptoms may include:2

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea and vomiting

As kidney health declines, self-care becomes more complicated and time-consuming. It may involve:1,3

  • Frequent doctor visits
  • Dialysis and dietitian appointments
  • Time off to have a dialysis port installed
  • Time off for kidney transplant analysis and surgery
  • Time spent managing nutrition, hydration, and medicines
  • Extra house and workplace cleaning to avoid infections

Legal protections for people working with kidney disease

There are 2 laws that protect workers with kidney disease: the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).4-6

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in many areas, including work. The ADA requires companies to provide “reasonable accommodations” for applicants and employees. Accommodations fall into 3 categories:4-6

  • Changes to the application process
  • Changes of the physical work environment or how a job is performed
  • Enabling equal access to benefits of employment (cafeterias, lounges, etc.)

The ADA also makes it illegal for companies to ask applicants whether they have a disability or how severe it is. Also, employers must keep any medical information confidential, including requests for reasonable accommodations.4-6

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off per year for family or medical reasons. One qualifying reason to use this is a serious health condition that makes you unable to work. Time may be taken off:3

  • All at once, such as for maternity leave or major surgery and recovery
  • In separate blocks of time for a single reason
  • In a way that reduces your weekly or daily schedule

Serious health conditions most often require time off through FMLA when:7

  • You need an overnight stay in a hospital
  • You are unable to work for more than 3 days
  • You have periods of disability and treatment

Tips for working with CKD

The social and intellectual stimulation, insurance, and money that come with work can give people with CKD emotional and financial security. But working can also be physically and mentally hard, depending on how severe your symptoms are.2

Learning how to balance work with your health needs may be challenging at times, but there are things you can do to keep working longer. Try these tips:2

  • Get screened for CKD if you are at high risk. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, ask your doctor for your GFR results. Knowing your kidney health can help you take steps to improve your health before kidney failure and keep you working longer.
  • Take steps to slow progression. Control your blood pressure and blood sugar, lose weight if needed, and quit smoking.
  • Learn to self-manage your kidney disease.
  • Ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed by life changes. Depression and anxiety are common in people with CKD, but they can be treated.

If kidney disease prevents you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Your kidney care team likely can help you apply for benefits. If you are unable to work, you should apply as quickly as possible for SSDI. It can be a complicated process, and it takes time to be approved for benefits.3

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