10 Signs You May Have Kidney Disease

Did you know that more than 37 million American adults are living with chronic kidney disease and probably don’t know it? (Only 10% are aware of it, according to the National Kidney Foundation.)

Rhonda Rubin, MD

One reason this number is so high is that even though there are several physical signs of kidney disease, people often attribute these to other conditions. Another reason is that people with kidney disease tend not to experience symptoms until the very late stages when their kidneys are failing or when there are large amounts of protein in the urine.

If your kidney disease advances to the chronic stage, you may develop complications such as high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones and nerve damage. Also, kidney disease increases your risk of having heart and blood vessel disease.

What do your kidneys do exactly?

We hear this question quite often at Westchester Health, and what we tell our patients is that although kidneys are rather small (about the size of a fist), they perform four very important functions. They help:

  • filter waste from your blood
  • create urine
  • control blood pressure
  • create red blood cells

When you have kidney disease, your kidneys are damaged and not filtering your blood the way they should. Two treatments for kidney failure are dialysis, which uses a machine to clean your blood, and a kidney transplant.

Are you at high risk?

You can be at higher-than-average risk for kidney disease if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure or if you’re older than age 60. If you meet any of these criteria, it’s important to get tested for kidney disease every year. During this test, be sure to mention any symptoms you’re experiencing to your healthcare provider.

10 signs you may have kidney disease

Although the only way to know for sure if you have kidney disease is to get tested, there are certain signs and symptoms you should be aware of that point to kidney disease. We find this list from the National Kidney Foundation to be both helpful and thorough, and we share it with you here.

  1. You’re more tired, have less energy and/or are having trouble concentrating

A severe decrease in kidney function can lead to a buildup of toxins and impurities in the blood. This can cause people to feel tired and weak, and can make it hard to concentrate. As mentioned above, another complication of kidney disease is anemia, which can cause weakness and fatigue.

  1. You’re having trouble sleeping, possibly with nightmares

When the kidneys are not filtering out impurities properly, toxins stay in the blood rather than leaving the body through the urine. This can make it difficult to sleep and in some cases, cause nightmares. Sleep apnea is more common in people with chronic kidney disease compared with the general population, as well as obesity.

  1. Dry, itchy skin

Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They remove wastes and extra fluid from your body, they help create red blood cells, they help keep bones strong and they maintain the correct amount of minerals in your blood. Dry and itchy skin can be a sign of a mineral and bone disease that often accompanies advanced kidney disease when the kidneys are no longer able to keep the right balance of minerals and nutrients in your blood.

  1. You feel the need to urinate more often

If you feel the need to urinate more often, especially at night, this can be a sign of kidney disease. When the kidney’s filters are damaged, it can cause an increase in the urge to urinate. Sometimes this can also be a sign of a urinary infection or an enlarged prostate in men.

  1. Blood in your urine

When kidneys are healthy and properly filtering wastes from the blood to create urine, red blood cells typically remain in the body. However, when the kidneys’ filters have been damaged, these blood cells can “leak” out into the urine. As well as being a sign of kidney disease, blood in the urine can also indicate tumors, kidney stones or an infection.

  1. Your urine is foamy

Excessive bubbles in the urine—you have to flush several times before they go away—indicate protein in the urine.

  1. Persistent puffiness around your eyes

Protein in the urine is an early sign that the kidneys’ filters have been damaged, allowing protein to leak into the urine rather than remaining in the body, and this can cause puffiness around the eyes.

  1. Your ankles and feet are swollen

Decreased kidney function can lead to sodium retention, causing swelling in the feet and ankles. This can also be a sign of heart disease, liver disease and chronic leg vein problems.

  1. Your appetite is poor

A buildup of toxins in the blood resulting from reduced kidney function can cause a loss of appetite.

  1. Your muscles cramp

Impaired kidney function can lead to electrolyte imbalances such as low calcium levels and poorly controlled phosphorus, which in turn can contribute to muscle cramping.

A blog about preventing kidney stones

We’ve written a very informative blog focusing on how to avoid developing a kidney stone(s), which you can read here.

Helpful websites we recommend

Concerned that you may have kidney disease? Please come see us.

If you’re worried that you may have kidney disease, or if you’re having any kind of pain or problem with your kidneys or urination, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health nephrologists. We’ll examine you, evaluate your symptoms, perform some tests, and together with you, decide on the best course of treatment, given your particular condition. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By Rhonda Rubin, MD, a nephrologist with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners