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symptoms kidney problems

More than 37 million American adults are living with kidney disease and most don’t know it. “There are a number of physical signs of kidney disease, but sometimes people attribute them to other conditions. Also, those with kidney disease tend not to experience symptoms until the very late stages, when the kidneys are failing or when there are large amounts of protein in the urine. This is one of the reasons why only 10% of people with chronic kidney disease know that they have it,” says Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, Chief Medical Officer at the National Kidney Foundation.

While the only way to know for sure if you have kidney disease is to get tested, Dr. Vassalotti shares 10 possible signs you may have kidney disease. If you’re at risk for kidney disease due to high blood pressurediabetes, a family history of kidney failure or if you’re older than age 60, it’s important to get tested annually for kidney disease. Be sure to mention any symptoms you’re experiencing to your healthcare practitioner.

Chronic kidney disease, also called chronic kidney failure, involves a gradual loss of kidney function. Your kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from your blood, which are then removed in your urine. Advanced chronic kidney disease can cause dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and wastes to build up in your body.

In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, you might have few signs or symptoms. You might not realize that you have kidney disease until the condition is advanced.

Treatment for chronic kidney disease focuses on slowing the progression of kidney damage, usually by controlling the cause. But, even controlling the cause might not keep kidney damage from progressing. Chronic kidney disease can progress to end-stage kidney failure, which is fatal without artificial filtering (dialysis) or a kidney transplant.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease develop over time if kidney damage progresses slowly. Loss of kidney function can cause a buildup of fluid or body waste or electrolyte problems. Depending on how severe it is, loss of kidney function can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Sleep problems
  • Urinating more or less
  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Swelling of feet and ankles
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) that’s difficult to control
  • Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
  • Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart

Signs and symptoms of kidney disease are often nonspecific. This means they can also be caused by other illnesses. Because your kidneys are able to make up for lost function, you might not develop signs and symptoms until irreversible damage has occurred.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of kidney disease. Early detection might help prevent kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure.

If you have a medical condition that increases your risk of kidney disease, your doctor may monitor your blood pressure and kidney function with urine and blood tests during office visits. Ask your doctor whether these tests are necessary for you.

Causes

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Chronic kidney disease occurs when a disease or condition impairs kidney function, causing kidney damage to worsen over several months or years.

Diseases and conditions that cause chronic kidney disease include:

  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Glomerulonephritis (gloe-mer-u-low-nuh-FRY-tis), an inflammation of the kidney’s filtering units (glomeruli)
  • Interstitial nephritis (in-tur-STISH-ul nuh-FRY-tis), an inflammation of the kidney’s tubules and surrounding structures
  • Polycystic kidney disease or other inherited kidney diseases
  • Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract, from conditions such as enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers
  • Vesicoureteral (ves-ih-koe-yoo-REE-tur-ul) reflux, a condition that causes urine to back up into your kidneys
  • Recurrent kidney infection, also called pyelonephritis (pie-uh-low-nuh-FRY-tis)

Risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk of chronic kidney disease include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart (cardiovascular) disease
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Being Black, Native American or Asian American
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Abnormal kidney structure
  • Older age
  • Frequent use of medications that can damage the kidneys

Complications

Chronic kidney disease can affect almost every part of your body. Potential complications include:

  • Fluid retention, which could lead to swelling in your arms and legs, high blood pressure, or fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • A sudden rise in potassium levels in your blood (hyperkalemia), which could impair your heart’s function and can be life-threatening
  • Anemia
  • Heart disease
  • Weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures
  • Decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction or reduced fertility
  • Damage to your central nervous system, which can cause difficulty concentrating, personality changes or seizures
  • Decreased immune response, which makes you more vulnerable to infection
  • Pericarditis, an inflammation of the saclike membrane that envelops your heart (pericardium)
  • Pregnancy complications that carry risks for the mother and the developing fetus
  • Irreversible damage to your kidneys (end-stage kidney disease), eventually requiring either dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival

Prevention

To reduce your risk of developing kidney disease:

  • Follow instructions on over-the-counter medications. When using nonprescription pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), follow the instructions on the package. Taking too many pain relievers for a long time could lead to kidney damage.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re at a healthy weight, maintain it by being physically active most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor about strategies for healthy weight loss.
  • Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking can damage your kidneys and make existing kidney damage worse. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about strategies for quitting. Support groups, counseling and medications can all help you to stop.
  • Manage your medical conditions with your doctor’s help. If you have diseases or conditions that increase your risk of kidney disease, work with your doctor to control them. Ask your doctor about tests to look for signs of kidney damage.

Signs of Kidney Disease

  1. You’re more tired, have less energy or are having trouble concentrating. A severe decrease in kidney function can lead to a buildup of toxins and impurities in the blood. This can cause people to feel tired, weak and can make it hard to concentrate. Another complication of kidney disease is anemia, which can cause weakness and fatigue.
  2. You’re having trouble sleeping. When the kidneys aren’t filtering properly, toxins stay in the blood rather than leaving the body through the urine. This can make it difficult to sleep. There is also a link between obesity and chronic kidney disease, and sleep apnea is more common in those with chronic kidney disease, compared with the general population.
  3. You have dry and itchy skin. Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They remove wastes and extra fluid from your body, help make red blood cells, help keep bones strong and work to maintain the right amount of minerals in your blood. Dry and itchy skin can be a sign of the mineral and bone disease that often accompanies advanced kidney disease, when the kidneys are no longer able to keep the right balance of minerals and nutrients in your blood.
  4. You feel the need to urinate more often. If you feel the need to urinate more often, especially at night, this can be a sign of kidney disease. When the kidneys filters are damaged, it can cause an increase in the urge to urinate. Sometimes this can also be a sign of a urinary infection or enlarged prostate in men.
  5. You see blood in your urine. Healthy kidneys typically keep the blood cells in the body when filtering wastes from the blood to create urine, but when the kidney’s filters have been damaged, these blood cells can start to “leak” out into the urine. In addition to signaling kidney disease, blood in the urine can be indicative of tumors, kidney stones or an infection.
  6. Your urine is foamy. Excessive bubbles in the urine – especially those that require you to flush several times before they go away—indicate protein in the urine. This foam may look like the foam you see when scrambling eggs, as the common protein found in urine, albumin, is the same protein that is found in eggs.
  7. You’re experiencing persistent puffiness around your eyes. Protein in the urine is an early sign that the kidneys’ filters have been damaged, allowing protein to leak into the urine. This puffiness around your eyes can be due to the fact that your kidneys are leaking a large amount of protein in the urine, rather than keeping it in the body.
  8. Your ankles and feet are swollen. Decreased kidney function can lead to sodium retention, causing swelling in your feet and ankles. Swelling in the lower extremities can also be a sign of heart disease, liver disease and chronic leg vein problems.
  9. You have a poor appetite. This is a very general symptom, but a buildup of toxins resulting from reduced kidney function can be one of the causes.
  10. Your muscles are cramping. Electrolyte imbalances can result from impaired kidney function. For example, low calcium levels and poorly controlled phosphorus may contribute to muscle cramping.

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