Know the symptoms of kidney problems and when to see your doctor. Signs can be subtle or obvious and indicate a minor or potentially serious kidney problem.
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on each side of your spine, just below the rib cage. The kidneys are part of your urinary tract, which also includes tube-like ureters that carry urine to your bladder, where it’s stored before urination.
Your kidneys filter about half a cup of blood every minute, removing excess water and wastes. The kidneys also remove acid produced by cellular functions and keep water, salts and potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals in balance so muscles, nerves, and other tissues work normally.
In addition, hormones produced by your kidneys make red blood cells, keep bones strong, and help control blood pressure, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) explains.
Signs of kidney problems can impact several systems in your body, depending on whether there is an infection in the kidneys, a blockage, or the organs are failing.
Bottom line: The normal function of your kidneys is crucial for your health. That’s why it’s important to recognize symptoms of kidney problems and have any signs checked out by your doctor for evaluation and, if needed, treatment.
Kidney infections symptoms
Most urinary tract infections (UTIs), typically caused by bacteria, are bladder infections (commonly called cystitis). Kidney infections, technically known as pyelonephritis, are the less common but most serious type of UTI, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Kidney infection symptoms include high fever (101 °F or above), chills or night sweats, nausea or vomiting, mental status changes, and lower back pain. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor for evaluation and treatment with antibiotics, if needed.
When young children develop kidney infections, they may not be able to communicate the signs of kidney problems they are experiencing. Parents should be on the lookout for a fever of unknown cause, vomiting, fussiness, or appetite changes and, if they spot these symptoms, call the child’s doctor.
Kidney stone symptoms
Kidney stones are hard, pebble-like deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside kidneys and can affect any part of your urinary tract, including your bladder and kidneys. They have many causes and result from concentrations of minerals in your urine.
Kidney stones can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as large as a pea. In rare cases, the NIDDK points out, they can even reach golf ball size. While a small kidney stone can pass through your urinary tract causing little or no pain, larger kidney stones may get stuck along the way, blocking urine and causing severe pain and bleeding.
If you have any kidney stone symptoms, seek care right away. With prompt treatment, kidney stones rarely cause permanent damage.
Symptoms of kidney problems caused by tumors
The American Cancer Society points out kidney cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers in the U.S. Possible kidney cancer symptoms include bloody urine, low back pain, extreme tiredness, a lump on the side or lower back, fever, and anemia.
However, these signs are non-specific, and the American Cancer Society explains the symptoms are often caused by other benign conditions — including non-cancerous tumors. However, only your doctor and specific tests can determine the cause.
Get kidney disease symptoms checked
Chronic kidney disease (CKD), often simply called simply kidney disease, refers to a gradual loss of kidney function. It is one of the most common types of kidney problems. In fact, according to the National Kidney Foundation, over 30 million Americans are living with kidney disease — and the majority don’t know.
In early stages of kidney failure, there can few symptoms, or the signs that develop may be overlooked. Unfortunately, this can result in kidney disease not being diagnosed until the condition is advanced.
It’s important to recognize kidney disease symptoms because treatment, sooner rather than later, can slow the progression of kidney damage, most often by controlling the underlying cause. If not treated promptly, kidney disease may continue to progress to kidney failure, which is life-threatening without kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Signs of kidney problems linked to kidney disease
You are at an increased risk for kidney disease if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, are age 60 or older, or have a family history of kidney failure — and you should be tested annually for kidney disease, the National Kidney Foundation advises.
Whether you are at risk of kidney disease, talk to your doctor for testing if you experience any of these symptoms of kidney problems:
- Feeling unusually tired and having difficulty concentrating. A decrease in kidney function can cause an accumulation of toxins, affecting energy and mental abilities. Weakness can also be the result of kidney disease caused anemia.
- Frequent urination, especially at night. Infections or an enlarged prostate in men can be responsible for this symptom, but kidney disease can cause an increased urge to urinate.
- Blood in your urine. Although infections, kidney stones, and tumors can cause bloody urine, so can kidney disease because, when the kidneys’ filtering system is damaged, red blood cells may leak out into the urine. Urine may appear foamy, too.
- Insomnia and fitful sleep. If your kidneys aren't filtering properly, accumulated toxins in your blood can impact your ability to sleep. Sleep apnea is more common in people with chronic kidney disease, the National Kidney Foundation points out, which can also cause sleep problems.
- Loss of appetite. Although this is a very general symptom with a host of possible causes, toxins from reduced kidney function can be responsible.
- Dry, itchy skin. Skin problems can be linked to the mineral and bone disease that often accompanies advanced kidney disease.
- Persistent puffiness around your eyes and swollen feet and ankles. Decreased kidney function can lead to sodium retention and swelling.
- Muscle cramps. Electrolyte imbalances, such as low calcium levels, from kidney disease trigger muscle cramps.
March 25, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN