Kidney disease has emerged as one of the deadliest silent killers. People often remain oblivious of renal problems until they acquire a more severe and critical form of the disease. According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 30 million people in America suffer from some kind of kidney disease.
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located at the back of the abdominal cavity on either side of your spine, just above the waist. The kidneys are important for overall health, performing many vital functions in the body.
They are responsible for removing toxins and waste from the blood. In addition, they release three important hormones – erythropoietin, renin, and calcitriol.
These hormones play a key role in maintaining good health. The kidneys work with other organs 24/7 to regulate blood pressure, increase red blood cell production, and synthesize vitamin D.
Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Often, early kidney problems do not exhibit many prominent symptoms. Hence, it can be difficult to diagnose the disease. Awareness of possible symptoms can help reduce your chance of suffering from advanced kidney disease and further complications.
Although the only way to know for sure that you have kidney disease or not is to get tested, here are 10 signs and symptoms that can alert you to this problem.
1. Changes in Urinary Function
The first symptom of kidney disease is a change in your urinary function. The change may be in the amount and frequency of the urine you pass. Other changes may include:
- Getting up at night a few times to urinate
- Urge to urinate more often but not able to do so when using the restroom
- Urine that is darker than usual
- Urine that is foamy or bubbly
- Urine that contains blood
- Feeling pressure or having difficulty urinating
- Pain or a burning sensation during urination
2. Swelling in the Body
It is the kidneys’ job to remove excess salts, waste, and extra liquid from the body. When this does not happen, the extra fluid and water buildup causes swelling. This can be in the hands, feet, ankle joints, face, and under the eyes.
You may also notice dimpling of the skin after being pressed for a few seconds.
3. Severe Fatigue and Weakness
When the kidneys do not function properly, there is a high chance of feeling fatigued most of the time. You may feel tired and exhausted or generally lack energy without any known reason. Two common causes of these symptoms are anemia and accumulation of waste products in the body.
Healthy kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin, which aids the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Damaged kidneys make less of this hormone, eventually leading to a decreased red blood cell count.
Also, when the kidneys do not function properly, it is harder for your body to get rid of harmful toxins and substances. This can lead to loss of appetite. Excess toxins in the body and loss of appetite make you less energetic.
If kidney disease causes anemia, you may suffer from frequent dizziness, which is a feeling of light-headedness, unsteadiness, or loss of balance. This happens because anemia can prevent your brain from getting enough oxygen.
It can further cause memory problems, trouble concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.
If you are suffering from sudden dizziness and poor concentration, take it seriously and get a medical checkup.
5. Unexplained Back Pain
Unexplained aches and pains in the back and in the sides of your abdomen can be symptoms of undiagnosed kidney disease or kidney infections. When the kidneys do not function properly, you may experience pain, stiffness, and fluid in the joints.
Pain in the lower back and groin can also be caused by kidney stones in the urethra. Polycystic renal disease, an inherited kidney disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts in the kidneys, can cause pain in the lower back, side, or abdomen.
If you experience severe cramping that spreads from the lower back into the groin, consult your doctor immediately.
6. Skin Breakouts and Itching
Sudden skin breakouts, rashes, irritation, and excessive itching are also symptoms of some types of kidney conditions. Improper kidney functioning contributes to the buildup of waste products and toxins in the body, leading to many skin problems.
Another effect of poor kidney functioning is an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the blood, which can lead to excessive itching.
If your otherwise healthy skin suddenly shows signs of breakouts, rashes, and intense itching, see your doctor.
7. Ammonia Breath
Kidney disease can also cause a metallic taste in the mouth or ammonia breath. This happens because poor kidney functioning leads to an increase in the level of urea in the blood. Urea is broken down to ammonia in the saliva, thus causing urine-like bad breath known as ammonia breath.
It can also cause an undesirable metallic taste in the mouth, which can make food taste different.
8. Nausea or Vomiting
As the kidneys are not able to filter harmful toxins out of the blood, an accumulation of excessive urea nitrogen in the bloodstream occurs. This stimulates the gastrointestinal mucosa and causes nausea and vomiting.
If you are still experiencing nausea and vomiting after taking medicines and necessary preventive measures, consult your doctor before the condition becomes worse.
9. Feeling Cold Most of the Time
This is another symptom of anemia, which could be caused by kidney disease. You may feel cold without any known reason, even when in a warm environment. At times, you may even have a fever with chills.
If you feel cold most of the time, along with dizziness and weakness, consult your doctor.
10. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath can also be a sign of kidney disease. Improper kidney functioning leads to extra fluid buildup in the lungs. Shortness of breath can also be due to anemia caused by kidney problems.
In addition, a buildup of potassium in the blood that is not filtered out by the kidneys may cause abnormal heart rhythms.
What Do Your Kidneys Do?
Healthy kidneys have several crucial roles:
- Help remove waste products
- Regulate the production of red blood cells
- Release hormones that regulate blood pressure
- Help produce an active form of vitamin D needed for bone health
- Make renin, which your body uses to manage your blood pressure
- Help maintain a balance of water and concentration of minerals, such as sodium, potassium, and phosphorus, in the blood.
Much like the colon, liver, lymph, lungs, and skin, the kidneys too are self-cleansing organs that help eliminate and neutralize toxins from the body on a daily basis. While this may be true, there is also no denying the unprecedented levels of pollution that our body is subjected to in today’s day and age.
From the air we breathe and the water we drink to the food, alcohol, and medications that we put in our system, everything is mired in toxins and chemicals. Thus, your kidneys have to work overtime and extra-hard to process whatever you put in your system and filter out unwanted or unnecessary substances in the form of urine.
In fact, the kidneys are perhaps one of the hardest working organs in the body. They filter about 200 quarts (30 gallons) of blood daily to remove excess fluid and metabolic waste.
To support this function, you must consume adequate amounts of fluids, both by consuming liquid forms such as water, juices, and other healthful drinks and by eating water-logged fruits and vegetables.
What You Should Not Forget?
- The onset of chronic kidney disease is hard to detect as it presents no visible signs or symptoms during its initial phase.
- It’s almost impossible to recuperate completely from chronic kidney disease, as it usually persists for a lifetime.
- So long as your kidney disease has not reached a chronic stage, it can be treated. Early diagnosis is crucial for getting timely treatment, which is your only shot at making a full recovery.
- If renal disease is suspected, your doctor is likely to administer a series of blood and urine tests to dispel all doubts and reach a conclusive diagnosis.
- If kidney disease is not met with adequate treatment and care, it will advance to kidney failure in all likelihood.
Who are at Risk of Kidney Disease?
There are certain diseases and extrinsic factors that put you at higher risk of kidney disease.
- Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, certain autoimmune diseases, kidney stones, and cancers can make one increasingly susceptible to kidney problems.
- You may be at an increased risk of kidney disease if renal problems exist in your family.
- Children who are born with deformed or underdeveloped kidneys are especially vulnerable to kidney disease.
- People of Asian, South Asian, Aboriginal, Pacific Island, African/Caribbean, and Hispanic descent demonstrate an increased tendency to develop chronic kidney disease.
- Glomerulonephritis or kidney inflammation, as well as genetic diseases such as polycystic kidney disease, can pave the way for a more chronic form of kidney damage.
- Medications such as lithium and cyclosporine can also compromise kidney function and health.
- Continued misuse of compound analgesic preparations that include a combination of strong painkillers has been an erstwhile cause of permanent kidney damage. Although such compound analgesics are now banned, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in normal therapeutic doses may also precipitate acute kidney failure occasionally.
- Another high-risk group for chronic kidney disease is people with medullary cystic kidney disease, an inherited condition characterized by the gradual loss of renal function due to cysts in the center of the kidneys.
When to See a Doctor
The above-listed symptoms are to be treated as red flags that would suggest that all is not well with your kidneys. The minute you get any inkling of renal malfunction, make an appointment with your doctor for a thorough medical examination.
Because kidney ailments exhibit several symptoms that overlap with other unrelated conditions, a proper diagnosis is an essential prerequisite for appropriate treatment. Only a healthcare professional will have the discerning expertise to rule out other possible causes, determine what the problem is, and prescribe the necessary treatment.
People who figure among the high-risk category, such as those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of kidney disease, are advised special care and precaution. It is imperative that they work closely with their doctor to keep a close tab on the state of their kidneys.
It is recommended that all patients with medical conditions – high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune diseases such as lupus, kidney stones, and polycystic kidney disease – get their blood checked for renal function and urine checked for protein every year. Seeing protein in the urine is one of the earliest signs of kidney injury.
If you happen to be at the risk of chronic kidney disease, you must get tested regularly to ensure that your kidneys are working at the best of their abilities. Monitoring your renal function is perhaps the best way to catch kidney disease early and get it treated before it can escalate to a chronic stage.
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