What are the Symptoms of Kidney Disease?
Detecting chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be tricky because the signs and symptoms of kidney disease occur late, after the condition has progressed and kidney damage has occurred. In fact, CKD is sometimes known as a “silent” condition because it’s hard to detect—and most people with early stage CKD are completely unaware of it.
Understanding chronic kidney disease symptoms
While watching for late-stage symptoms won’t help with early detection,
it’s still important to be aware of the signs. Remember, you shouldn’t
wait for symptoms before you take action. If you are at risk for CKD,
especially if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, it's
recommended that you get screened at least once a year for any evidence
of kidney disease and to learn your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR).
Your doctor can give you a blood test that will measure your creatinine
levels and help determine your level of kidney function. The earlier
CKD is detected, the greater the benefit of early treatment.
Talk to your doctor immediately if you notice any of these potential CKD signs and symptoms:
- Changes in urination
Healthy kidneys help filter blood to create urine. When the kidneys don’t function well, urination issues may occur such as needing to urinate more often or seeing blood in your urine. You may also experience urine that’s foamy or bubbly—which could be an early sign that protein is getting into your urine due to damaged kidneys.
Reduced kidney function can lead to a buildup of toxins in the blood that causes you to have a lack of energy or feel overwhelmingly tired. CKD may also cause anemia, which can make you feel tired or weak due to having too few red blood cells.
Dry and itchy skin may be a sign that you have an imbalance of minerals and nutrients in your blood due to kidneydisease. Itching is often caused by high blood levels of phosphorus.
- Swelling in your hands, legs, or feet
When your kidneys aren’t removing excess fluid and sodium from your body, swelling (also known as edema) may occur in your feet or other lower extremities.
- Shortness of breath
Extra fluid can build up in your lungs when your kidneys aren't removing enough fluid, which may cause you to beshort of breath. CKD-induced anemia, which is a shortage of oxygen carrying red blood cells, may also cause breathlessness.
- Pain in the small of your back
You may experience localized pain near your kidneys that doesn't change or that becomes worse when you move or stretch. The kidneys are located on either side of your spine in your lower back, and kidney problems can cause pain in this area. Back pain may also be due to an infection or blockage of the kidneys, which can lead to kidney damage.
- Decreased appetite
A buildup of toxins due to impaired kidney function may cause you to lose your appetite, whether because you feel full or too sick or tired to eat.
- Puffiness around your eyes
Protein leaking into your urine as a result of kidney damage may cause persistent puffiness around the eyes, an early sign of kidney disease.
- Abnormal levels of phosphorus, calcium, or vitamin D
Impaired kidney function can cause electrolyte imbalances, such as low calcium levels or high phosphorus, that may lead to muscle cramping.
- Abnormal urine test
High amounts of protein in your urine, called proteinurea, can be a sign of kidney disease. Healthy kidneys filter out waste and fluid, letting protein return to the blood. When the kidneys don’t function correctly, protein leaks into your urine.
- High blood pressure
Excess fluid and sodium build up as a result of kidney disease can cause you to have higher blood pressure. High blood pressure can also damage the blood vessels in the kidneys and lead to a worsening of kidney disease over time.
How do CKD symptoms progress?
Symptoms of CKD develop slowly over time. Many people in the earlier stages (stages 1 and 2) of kidney disease do not experience symptoms at all and may require testing to receive a diagnosis. You’re more likely to experience symptoms in the later stages or end stage of kidney disease (stages 3, 4, and 5).
Check in on diabetes and high blood pressure
Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) are the top two causes of chronic kidney disease. If you have a health diagnosis such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it’s important that you take control of your health and begin monitoring these conditions more closely. Many times when these other conditions progress or are not treated properly, your kidneys have to work harder and risk more damage over time. Regular check-ups that include blood and urine tests are critical to monitoring your kidney health. Take the time to learn from your doctor about how to best care for your health, manage your medications, and eat well.
Are symptoms of kidney disease different in men and women?
Although they both may experience the same symptoms, CKD may progress differently in men and women. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney infections are more common in women, which may cause kidney disease to develop. In general, women have a greater risk for CKD, whereas men may progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or kidney failure faster. Both men and women can lower their risk of kidney disease by maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar, and living a healthy lifestyle.
Recognize a symptom? Talk to your doctor
The sooner you report signs or symptoms to your doctor, the sooner you can get a diagnosis and start taking steps to slow the progression of kidney disease. Your doctor can determine your level of kidney function through a simple blood test used to calculate your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Knowing your eGFR is key to understanding your stage of kidney disease and how best to manage your kidney health.
When to see a kidney doctor
Your primary care doctor can help you determine when it's time to see a kidney doctor (nephrologist), who specializes in treating kidney disease. If you have late stage 3 kidney disease (eGFR of 44 or lower), talk to your doctor about receiving a referral to a nephrologist. A nephrologist can help you develop a personalized care plan, talk to you about managing kidney disease, and support you in living your best life.