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Signs of Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an ongoing condition in which kidney function gets worse over time. Early treatment can slow or prevent the progression of CKD, but because the first signs often go unnoticed, it’s important to have regular screenings if you’re at risk of developing kidney disease. Routine blood and urine tests can detect CKD, so talk to your doctor if you begin to feel sick or have concerns about your health. Take the opportunity to get ahead of CKD by learning the signs of kidney disease, understanding your risks, and speaking with your doctor about how you can manage your health.

Kidney Disease Is a Progressive Condition

Your kidneys work hard to filter waste, remove toxins, balance fluid levels, produce hormones, regulate blood pressure, and much more. They’re very good at what they do, so until function is significantly decreased, the early signs of kidney disease can be mild. These symptoms can also seem like signs of other health conditions. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, swelling, or fatigue (tiredness), or feel the urge to urinate too much or too little. As kidney disease progresses, the symptoms become more intense.

Nephrologists (or kidney doctors) measure how well your kidneys function and depending on lab results, determine which of the five stages of CKD you’re in. Stages 3b through 5 are considered late-stage CKD and are best managed by working with a nephrologist and starting to discuss treatment options.

Signs You May Have Kidney Disease

While the signs of kidney disease may be less obvious in early stages, the symptoms can become more prominent as the disease progresses. There are a few types of symptoms to watch out for:

  1. Changes in urination.
    • Using the bathroom more often than usual—especially at night—or frequently feeling an intense urge to urinate can be a sign of kidney disease.
    • Bloody or foamy urine is a sign that your kidneys are not filtering red blood cells and protein as they should.
  2. Feeling sick and tired.
    • When waste builds up in your blood, you may begin to feel very tired and your sleep patterns might be disrupted. You may feel fatigued or have trouble sleeping.
    • Your kidneys help your body make blood cells, so CKD can also cause anemia—low red blood cell count—which makes you feel weak.
  3. Swelling and fluid retention.
    • Your kidneys eliminate excess fluid and sodium. If they aren’t functioning properly, this fluid builds up in your arms, legs, hands, or feet. It can even appear as puffiness around your eyes.
    • With too much fluid in your body, you may experience high blood pressure, which further damages the blood vessels in your kidneys.
    • You may experience shortness of breath. If your kidneys aren’t regulating your body’s fluid levels, it may even build up in your lungs, making it hard to breathe.
  4. Buildup of waste and toxins.
    • An imbalance of waste products and fluids can make you feel nauseous. It can also result in a metallic taste in your mouth, which might make you lose your appetite.
    • Excess waste and mineral buildup in the bloodstream can cause irritating skin conditions and dry, itchy skin.
  5. Imbalanced nutrients.
    • Healthy kidneys balance the amount of nutrients in your body. Abnormal levels of vitamins and minerals—especially phosphorus and calcium—are signs your kidneys may not be working properly.
    • Minerals are important for good muscle function, but if your kidneys aren’t keeping them in check, too much or too little can cause cramping.

Know Your Risk of CKD and Make Kidney-Smart Choices

There are several risk factors for CKD, including family history, age, lifestyle, and more. Other health issues, like heart disease, can have a big impact on your chances of developing kidney disease. In fact, high blood pressure and diabetes are the two biggest causes of CKD—together, they are responsible for almost three-quarters of all kidney failure.

Although kidney damage can’t be reversed, the progression of CKD can be slowed. Minimize the impact of CKD by eating well, making healthy lifestyle choices, addressing your other health conditions, and visiting your doctor regularly. If you suspect your symptoms may be kidney disease, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

Get Ahead of Kidney Disease

CKD can be tricky to diagnose, especially in the earlier stages. Watching for the signs of kidney disease—especially when you take your risk factors into account—will help you know when it’s time to seek help from your doctor. Stay on top of your health so you can feel your best.


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