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Early Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Problems/Kidney Disease

HealthcareOnTime Team 2024-03-01 2024-03-02 3 Min Read
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  • Early Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Problems/Kidney Disease

    Kidneys, crucial organs in the body's filtration system, play a pivotal role in maintaining overall health. However, when kidney function becomes compromised, it can manifest through various early warning symptoms. Recognizing these early symptoms of kidney problems is essential for timely intervention and effective management of kidney problems.

    Kidney diseases can play a detrimental role in your body's ability to detoxify your blood, pull the extra water out of your blood, and facilitate your blood pressure control

    Did you know: 

    •  Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects nearly 10% of the world population, resulting in millions of deaths annually because of inaccessible treatment and affordability1.
    • At the moment, there are over 2 million individuals worldwide who either use dialysis or a kidney transplant to live 2

    It is important to be aware of the early signs of kidney problems to ensure early intervention is taken. Symptoms of kidney problems are often highlighted through a bundle of signs that culminate in chronic kidney disease, renal infections, kidney stones, or other kidney problems.

    What Is the First Sign of Kidney Problems?

    The symptoms of chronic kidney disease are characterized by a gradual development of early signs. So when the question is 'what is the first sign of kidney problems,' you might want to look out for the following: 

    • Changes in Urination: This includes more frequent urination, smaller volumes, foaming or bubbling urine, blood in the urine (hematuria), and difficult or painful urination.
    • Swelling (Edema): Fluid retention in legs, ankles, or face is one more red flag for kidney issues.
    • Fatigue and Weakness: It is not unusual to have low energy levels, feel worn out, or lose overall vigor; these are some of the symptoms of kidney problems.
    • Itchy Skin: Persistent itching may be associated with early signs of kidney problems.
    • High Blood Pressure: For your kidneys, balancing the blood pressure is a prerequisite for keeping the blood pressure healthy. A compromised kidney can't contribute to the pressure regulation of the blood, making it one of the symptoms of chronic kidney disease7.
    • Muscle Cramps: Accumulation of toxins is one of the general symptoms of kidney disease that results in cramping. Disturbance in water and electrolyte levels often results from impaired kidney function.
    • Changes in Appetite or Unexplained Weight Loss: Kidney problems may lead to appetite changes or weight loss despite little apparent reason, especially indicating kidney disease symptoms in females.
    • Swollen Face and Feet: With nephrotic syndrome, there is an increase in protein in the urine. This causes a discharge of fluid in the lymphatic system, resulting in the swelling of different parts of the body, including the face, hand, belly, and feet.
    • Shortness of Breath: One of the many symptoms of chronic kidney disease may be the feeling of not being able to breathe or having hard breathing, which may be really upsetting. Moreover, you can also experience chest pain from fluid buildup around the lining of the heart
    • Electrolyte Imbalance: Imbalances in electrolytes, such as potassium, sodium, and calcium, can result from impaired kidney function, leading to symptoms like muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and confusion.
    • Persistent Back Pain: Persistent back pain, particularly in the kidney area (flank region), may serve as an early sign of kidney problems. This pain can vary from mild discomfort to severe, sharp pain.
    • Metallic Taste in the Mouth or Ammonia Breath: Kidney dysfunction can lead to a buildup of waste products in the blood, causing a metallic taste in the mouth or an ammonia-like odor on the breath.

    Do you know what color urine is when your kidneys are failing? Dark brown urine can indeed occur in cases of kidney failure. This discolouration is typically attributed to the accumulation of waste products in the urine, which can give it a darker hue. 

    Who is More at Risk of Developing Kidney Problems? 

    The two main causes of CKD in adults are diabetes and high blood pressure, apart from glomerular diseases and polycystic kidney disease 3. Furthermore, there are some other risk factors associated with heart disease, obesity, family history of CKD, inherited kidney disorders, damaged kidney cells, and age 4.

    As people age, certain conditions affecting the kidneys and urinary tract become more prevalent:

    • Age over 60 years
    • Obesity
    • Smoking habit
    • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
    • Diabetes
    • Genetically determined kidney disease in the family 5.
    • Chronic heart conditions (such as heart failure or prior heart attack) or stroke in the past.

    Are Symptoms of Kidney Disease Different in Men, Women, and Children?

    In the United States, among the 80 million adults, statistics show that approximately 1 in 3 is at risk of developing kidney disease7.  However, the gap between women and men is found to be significant when it comes to ESKD (end-stage kidney disease) as women are almost 25% more prone to the condition, yet they develop ESKD at a lower rate (14% compared to 12% of men)8

    For about every 1,000 people in America, there are approximately 2 individuals grappling with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD), a challenging condition that requires treatment like kidney transplant or dialysis to manage 6.

    Thus, doctors advise you to go for the Kidney Function Test (RFT/KFT), Kidney panel test, or other diagnostic tests to ensure the problem is detected and managed as early as possible.

    Here are a few symptoms of kidney problems in females, males, and children. 

    Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Females

    Kidney disease symptoms in females often show as follows:

    • Fatigue
    • Lack of concentration
    • Unusual loss of appetite 
    • Poor sleep
    • Muscle cramps at night 
    • Puffed-up eye area 
    • Swelling of the feet, hands, legs
    • Restless back
    • Abnormal levels of phosphorus, calcium, or vitamin D
    • High blood pressure
    • Increased urination
    • Weakness 
    • Itching 
    • Shortness of breath

    Before kidney disease symptoms in females show up, it is most advisable to book a kidney function test at home to ensure your kidneys are functioning as they should.  It is imperative that women be aware of these early symptoms of kidney problems and thereby visit a doctor if they experience any of the signs to facilitate timely diagnosis and management.

    Kidney Disease Symptoms in Males

    If you want to know what the first sign of kidney problems is in men, it is quite similar to kidney disease symptoms in females. Some of them include: 

    • Tiredness
    • Feeling cold all the time
    • Shortness of breath
    • Foamy or bubbly urine 
    • Blood in urine
    • Persistent swelling around the eyes
    • Swelling in the ankles and feet
    • Poor appetite
    • Muscle cramps
    • Difficulty urinating
    • Changes in urine frequency and quantity

    Every male must be vigilant and seek medical attention immediately to get the earliest possible treatment and management of kidney disease.

    Kidney Disease Symptoms in Child 

    Kidney disease symptoms in a child often show up as insignificant or even no signs at times. 

    However, as the disease progresses, several symptoms may become evident:

    • Ballooning of the feet, legs, hands, or face, known as edema9.
    • The fluid balance (which depends on urination volume) can increase or decrease. Some children will urinate more often than others (known as Pollakiuria) and mostly during the night.
    • Urine foam, developing from the presence of an excess amount of proteins in the urine, is known as proteinuria.
    • The urine that looks pink or cola-coloured due to blood, resulting in hematuria10.

     Signs and symptoms of kidney problems in children may include:

    • Fever
    • Decreased appetite
    • Fatigue
    • Itchy skin
    • Elevated blood pressure
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Delayed growth
    • Shortness of breath
    • Weakness
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Weight loss

    Moreover, symptoms of kidney disease can range from one child to another, depending on the main cause of the kidney disease. Always remember to consult a doctor as soon as the early signs of kidney problems arise. 

    Diagnosis and Tests For Kidney Problems

    Healthcare professionals rely on a few key diagnostic tests to detect early symptoms of kidney problems or make an existing discovery of an issue:

    • Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) Blood Test: This test assesses renal function by checking blood filtering ability. A GFR at a level lower than 60 is suggestive of kidney disease, while a GFR of 15 or lower can indicate renal failure11.
    •  Urine Test for Albumin: This test checks for a protein called albumin in the urine. The albumin presence indicates potential kidney damage. High albumin levels in the urine can be an indicator of kidney disease
    • Serum Creatinine Test: This test is mainly to detect if there are high creatinine levels, a waste product which is excreted through the healthy kidneys. Its augmentation may be a sign of reduced kidney function, so consider taking foods to lower creatine levels
    • Blood Urea Nitrogen Test: The serum creatinine level is significantly higher in individuals with poor kidney function. Raised BUN concentrations often indicate poor kidney performance.
    • Cystatin C Test: Using this blood test, doctors evaluate kidney function by determining the level of cystatin C in the blood
    • Kidney Ultrasound: This sound wave-assisted imaging test of the kidneys helps detect abnormalities such as cysts, tumors, and obstructions
    • Kidney Biopsy: In some cases, a biopsy may be required to study a tiny kidney tissue microscopically as a means of diagnosing a disease

    Management and Prevention

    The management of kidney disease is a multifaceted approach that aims to slow down the progression rate and promote the general well-being of the individual. Here are some essential management tips:

    • Follow a Kidney-Friendly Diet: Make sure that your diet is balanced and includes the following: portion control, having less salt, mindful protein consumption, and complex carbohydrates as the main food. You can also follow a diet for chronic kidney patients after a doctor's consultation.12
    • Monitor Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels: Achieve the desired blood pressure and blood sugar levels because they are the greatest contributors to developing diabetic kidney disease13.
    • Stay Hydrated: It is always advisable to keep yourself well hydrated at least up to 3 liters each day (unless otherwise instructed by your doctor) as proper hydration ensures kidneys work well 14.
    • Adhere to Medication Regimens: Make sure to take your prescribed medications at the proper dosage and frequency that your doctor has recommended to control conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and other ailments. Overdosing on medications can give rise to symptoms of chronic kidney disease 15
    • Engage in Regular Exercise: Add physical activity into your daily regimen according to your healthcare provider's instructions to help you lose weight, lower blood pressure, and control blood sugar, which makes a healthy kidney easier to achieve.
    • Quit Smoking: Smoking can worsen kidney disease and develop cardiovascular problems as well. Moreover, it is linked to an increased risk of death. Quitting smoke can be a lifesaver as it has incredibly positive effects on your general health as well as kidney function
    • Limit Alcohol Consumption: Reduce alcohol consumption to a minimum level or abstain from it at all, as high levels of alcohol intake can damage your kidneys, and you may lose the ability to function properly.
    • Attend Regular Monitoring: Regularly keep the appointed check-up and follow-up sessions with your health care provider to monitor the function of kidneys, re-adjust the therapy plans if needed, and pay immediate attention to any arising issues. Additionally, go for the Electrolytes Serum Test and Uric Acid Test, apart from the ones mentioned above, if you seek a healthy kidney. 
    • Manage Stress: Add regular stress-reducing practices, e.g., mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, to your life to reduce stress, which directly influences overall health and kidney function.
    • Educate Yourself: Consider learning about your disease, treatment plan, and the way of life adjustments that will be needed for effective kidney disease management. 

    Ref Links: 


    What are the Symptoms of Stage 1 Kidney Disease?

    The early symptoms of kidney problems of stage 1 kidney disease are often very weak, and most people may not notice any signs at all during the early stage. 

    But if any symptoms are present, they might show up as:

    1. High blood pressure
    2. Swelling in legs
    3. Urinary tract infections
    4. An unusual urine indicator shows protein in the urine.

    What Medical Condition Damages the Kidneys the Most?

    Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a medical condition that is the primary cause of kidney damage and poor overall health. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive condition that is characterized by persistent damage caused to the kidneys, which, in turn, worsens the kidney function by inhibiting its capacity to filter the waste and fluid from the blood.

    Over time, the damage continues worsening and might lead to the failure of the kidney or end-stage renal disease. Among the main factors triggering CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure.

    Can Sitting Too Long Affect the Kidneys?

    Indeed, sitting long can lead to symptoms of chronic kidney disease. Studies show that more than spending many hours sitting, sedentary behavior, like chair bound, is related to a higher risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD). 

    Sitting for a longer period of time is associated with an increased risk of kidney damage, especially albuminuria33, even if we engage in physical activities to the same extent. Women who spend more than 12 hours a day sitting, in particular, are likely to suffer from severe CKD compared to others who sit for a shorter amount of time.

    Is Walking Good for Bad Kidneys?

    Accordingly, walking may be quite beneficial to people with kidney disease, particularly chronic kidney disease (CKD). Studies have shown that apart from kidney health, walking has other positive impacts. As a low-impact and easily accessible form of exercise, walking offers numerous benefits for the kidney.

    In fact, research has shown that frequent walking reduces the chances of death and requires dialysis or kidney transplant to a lower degree in those who have CKD stage 3-5.


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