What are the warning signs of kidney problems?

kidney problems

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in your lower back, just below your rib cage. They filter your blood and remove waste and extra fluid from your body. Your kidneys also make hormones that help control your blood pressure, make red blood cells, and keep your bones healthy.

They are among the vital organs you need to stay alive, though you can live with just one kidney.

Unfortunately, signs of kidney disease or other problems are not always obvious at first.

Kidney disease is one of the silent diseases that can result in severe long-term disability, and even death, if left untreated. Here are 10 warning signs of kidney problems.

You’re always tired

Kidneys are in control of filtering waste from your blood and removing it from your body in your urine. When your kidney has difficulty with this process, toxins can build up and you may experience fatigue. You may feel tired, frail, have trouble focusing, or feel as though you can’t concentrate on a task.

The kidneys also produce a hormone that tells your body to make red blood cells. A low red blood cell count means oxygen cannot be carried around your body as quickly and easily, again making you feel tired and weak.

Read: What your urine can tell you about the state of your health

You’re experiencing poor sleep quality

There is evidence to suggest that there is a connection between sleep apnoea and chronic kidney disease (CKD), which, over time, damages your organs and may lead to kidney failure.

Sleep apnoea is a condition where a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. It is thought that sleep apnoea may cause CKD by increasing your blood pressure, which can damage the kidneys.

Your skin is itchy

Persistent itchiness can result from the kidneys’ inability to flush out the toxins in the blood. It can cause a rash or make you itch all over, seemingly without a cause.

As time passes, your kidneys may be unable to balance the minerals and nutrients in your body, causing mineral and bone disease that also makes your skin dry and itchy.

You have a swollen face and feet

When your kidneys malfunction, they can’t remove sodium effectively, which causes fluid to build up in your body. It may lead to puffy hands, feet, ankles and legs, and cause your face to bloat. The swelling is often the most noticeable in your feet and ankles.

Protein leaking out of your body in your urine may also cause puffiness around the eyes.

You’re experiencing muscle cramps

Another common sign of poor kidney function is experiencing cramps in your legs. An imbalance in sodium, calcium, and potassium levels, as well as other electrolytes, may tamper with how your muscles and nerves work.

You’re often breathless

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a glycoprotein hormone, naturally produced by the kidneys, that stimulates red blood cell production. Often with kidney disease, there will be a shortage of EPO in the body.

This typically leads to anaemia. Anaemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues. Having anaemia, also referred to as low haemoglobin, can make you feel tired, weak and breathless.

Excess fluid build-up in the body from kidney disease may cause breathlessness.In severe cases, people may feel as though they are drowning when lying down.

Read: How to avoid kidney stones by adding calcium to your diet

You’re experiencing brain fog

If your kidneys don’t filter all the waste out of your body, the toxins can affect your brain. Anaemia caused by kidney problems may also prevent your brain from receiving the oxygen it needs to function effectively.

You may sometimes feel dizzy and have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. Sometimes, even the simplest of tasks may feel challenging.

You have a low appetite

Kidney problems may also be responsible for causing nausea and an upset stomach that may leave you with a low appetite. In some cases, rapid weight loss can occur with kidney issues.

You have foul breath

Kidney problems may also cause a condition called uraemia, leaving you with bad smelling breath. In addition to this, toxins in your bloodstream can cause a metallic or off-taste in your mouth.

Read: Bladder and kidney cancer warning sign

You notice foamy, brown, or bloody urine

Bubbly urine could be an indicator of an excess protein called albumin that can result from kidney issues. It can cause your urine to look brownish or be very pale. Faulty kidney function also may let the blood spill from your bladder. However, blood present in urine can be caused by kidney stones, tumours, or an infection.

It is best to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing one or some of the warning signs of kidney problems. Kidney disease is a condition that can go unnoticed until the indicators become severe. If you’re worried, think about requesting a kidney function test; this should help you and your doctor address any possible underlying causes of kidney problems.

To keep your kidneys as healthy as possible, keep your blood pressure low by losing weight, exercising, limiting salt and alcohol intake or taking medication if necessary. Don’t smoke and adopt a Mediterranean style diet.

Are you confident your kidneys are healthy? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

One Comment

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  1. My own experience shows that dietary intake is an important factor in health.
    I discovered in May 2009 that I had Chronic Kidney Disease. My blood tests showed eGFR figure of 50 indicating percent of function (range >=90) and my Creatinine figure of 99 (range 45-90).
    Two GPs said those figures were normal for my age at the time (60), another GP refused to discuss anything with me because I had researched my problem on the internet and a specialist said not to make any dietary changes until I was really bad, and he considered I was ‘a bit obsessive’ about intake of Protein, Phosphorus, Potassium and Sodium.
    I weighed and calculated figures of my food intake reading labels and using https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/Pages/foodbyalphabetsearch.aspx, keeping within or close to government Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) levels for my age and gender, thinking that if I only ate what my body needed, there would be no excess in my blood that my kidneys couldn’t excrete, so not get deposited in other organs, doing them damage.
    I kept figures on an Excel spreadsheet for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks, so I could eat more or less at Dinner depending on intake for Breakfast and Lunch.
    My blood test results in October that year showed my eGFR increased from 50 to 69 and my Creatinine reduced from 99 to 75 which to me are significant improvements for the better.
    Having become used to my general intake, I (now 73) have been careful with my diet ever since. Recent blood tests show eGFR at 81 (>59) and Creatinine 85 (60-110). Very happy with that! 
    Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a significant and growing public health problem, responsible for substantial burden of illness and premature mortality. Positive dietary choices can make a big difference. It is never too early or too late to start making changes for the better.

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