10 Signs of Kidney Disease

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Many people who have chronic kidney disease don't know it, because the early signs can be very subtle. It can take many years to go from chronic kidney disease (CKD) to kidney failure.

What Causes Kidney Disease?

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney disease. These conditions cause about 70 percent of kidney failure cases. A person is also at risk if they have heart disease or close relative who has kidney disease. Early stages have no signs or symptoms. The only way to know if your elderly parent is experiencing kidney problems is to get checked.

Kidney disease does not go away. It may get worse over time and can lead to kidney failure. Once these organs fail, the only options are dialysis or a kidney transplant. This disease can be treated. The sooner you know your parent has it, the sooner you can take steps to keep their kidneys healthy longer. Here are the top signs and symptoms of kidney disease to look for.

1. Changes in Urination

  • Waking up at night to urinate
  • Urinating more frequently than usual
  • Urine that is foamy or bubbly
  • Urinating less often, or in smaller amounts than usual with dark colored urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • A feeling or pressure while urinating
  • Difficulty urinating

2. Swelling

Failing kidneys don't remove extra fluid. As a result, the fluid builds up in the body causing swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face or hands.

3. Fatigue

When the kidneys are healthy, they make a hormone called erythropoietin that tells the body to make oxygen-carrying red blood cells. As the kidneys fail, they make less erythropoietin. With fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen, the muscles and brain become tired very quickly. This condition is known as anemia.

4. Feeling Cold

Anemia can make a person feel cold all the time, even in a warm room.

5. Dizziness and Trouble Concentrating

Anemia related to kidney failure means that the brain is not getting enough oxygen. This can lead to memory problems, trouble with concentration, and dizziness.

6. Shortness of Breath

When kidney disease is present, extra fluid in the body can build up in the lungs. In addition, anemia can leave the body oxygen-starved and short of breath.

7. Back Pain

Some people with kidney problems may have pain in the back or side related to the affected kidney. Polycystic kidney disease, which causes large, fluid-filled cysts on the kidneys and sometimes the liver, can cause pain.

8. Rashes

When the kidneys fail, the buildup of wastes in the blood can cause severe itching and skin rashes.

9. Metallic Taste in the Mouth

A buildup of wastes in the blood (called uremia) can make food taste different and cause bad breath. A person with kidney problems may also notice that a metallic taste in the mouth. They may suddenly stop liking to eat meat, or they may lose weight because they don't feel like eating.

10. Nausea and Vomiting

A severe buildup of wastes in the blood (uremia) can cause nausea and vomiting.

Testing for Kidney Disease

If you suspect kidney disease, get blood and urine tests to check for kidney disease. A blood test measures GFR, which indicates how well the kidneys are working. GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate.

A urine test measures the amount of protein in the urine. Protein can leak into the urine when the kidneys are not working well. Ask your healthcare provider about blood pressure medicines that can help slow down kidney disease.


The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) is an information dissemination service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

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12 Comments

To everyone with kidney disease, let me just say something: Don't lose hope! There IS an solution, and you CAN get better, even if everyone tells you that it's hopeless. In fact, I got better naturally with some simple diet changes that anybody can do.

Don't lose hope!
I agree with tuhumom. Don't expect your doctor to do all the homework for you. I was not given correct information and I also know others who were swayed by the myth that they should rely on doctors instead of their own common sense. After I realized what had happened, I was given a death sentence and many threats by my "recommended" nephrologist. I chose to ditch appointment addiction and left. I simply did not believe the message of hopelessness I was hearing. I listened to my body instead. I avoid salt and processed food (anything in a pretty package, which is a far more economical way to eat, anyway). Years passed. I got better! I feel better. I feel MUCH less fatigued. I no longer swell up. I no longer have itchy skin (I don't know why this one isn't mentioned). I am amazed at the improvement. Last time I went to the doctor's, I said nothing but asked for a kidney panel to be done. She called me and said all kidney functioning was normal. I asked her to repeat this and she did. "Normal. You have nothing to worry about." I've saved money, saved on my food bill, saved on medical bills, and saved my life, too.
My elderly mother in law has problems with chronic kidney stones, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and now over seven fractures on her spine, with three more waiting for a time to happen. I'm wondering if this is all related to kidney disease. In other words should we be looking more closely to the kidneys rather than the RA?