The early stages of kidney damage may cause few or no symptoms. However, as damage accumulates and prevents the kidneys from functioning correctly, people may begin to notice symptoms. These may include fatigue, swelling, and urine changes.

The kidneys play a crucial role in filtering and removing waste products and excess fluid from the body. They also maintain electrolyte and fluid balance by managing their concentrations in the body.

When the kidneys become damaged, imbalances can cause problems in how muscles, nerves, and other tissues function. The kidneys may not clean the blood as efficiently, causing toxins and fluid to accumulate.

In this article, we discuss the different potential signs and symptoms of kidney damage. We also give tips on helping to prevent kidney damage.

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The early stages of kidney damage may not cause symptoms, making them easy to miss.

Evidence suggests that 9 in 10 adults do not know they have chronic kidney disease (CKD). A person can lose up to 90% of their kidney function before experiencing any symptoms.

Many people only experience symptoms in the later stages, when there is severe kidney damage and the kidneys can no longer function correctly.

Below are some signs and symptoms of kidney disease:

  • Tiredness and lack of energy: Reduced kidney function can cause toxins in the blood to build up. This causes people to feel weak and tired. It can also make it hard to concentrate. It may also result in anemia, which can contribute to fatigue.
  • Trouble sleeping: Insomnia is also common among people who receive dialysis due to chronic pain and the physical stress of their condition.
  • High blood pressure: The kidney plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure. Excess sodium and fluid in the body can cause a person’s blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure can also worsen a person’s kidney disease, as it damages the kidney’s blood vessels.
  • Urge to urinate more frequently: Decreased kidney function affects their ability to filter correctly. The additional volume of fluid and waste leads to increased urinary frequency.
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria): Damaged kidneys can cause blood to leak into the urine. This can also signify an infection, kidney stones, or a tumor. People with CKD and hematuria also have a higher risk of CKD progression, especially within the first 2 years of hematuria developing.
  • Foamy urine: Functioning kidneys do not allow albumin to pass from the blood into the urine. Bubbly or foamy urine is a sign of this protein in the urine, indicating damaged kidneys.
  • Swelling in the hands, legs, and feet: Fluid and sodium retention can cause the feet, ankles, and legs to swell.
  • Puffiness around the eyes: Significant protein leakage in the urine can cause periorbital edema, which is swelling and puffiness around the eyes.
  • Dry and itchy skin: Mineral and nutrient imbalances can make the skin dry and itchy. This can range from mild to severely disrupting. Itchy areas may occur in one skin area or across the body.
  • Reduced appetite: The buildup of toxins can cause a person to feel full or too tired and unwell to eat. Reduced appetite can lead to a reduction in renal function and initiation of dialysis.
  • Muscle cramping: Impaired kidney function can cause an electrolyte imbalance, which can cause neuromuscular problems, including muscle cramping, twitching, or weakness. Some people may also feel pins and needles or lose sensation in certain areas of the body.
  • Pain in the small of the back: The kidneys are on either side of the back, between the rib cage and hips. Certain kidney problems can cause localized pain in this area, which is worse when moving or stretching.

High blood pressure and diabetes are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease. Other risk factors include:

Belonging to particular population groups with higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes is also a significant risk factor. This includes the following groups:

About 1 in 3 people with diabetes have CKD, while 60–90% of people with high blood pressure also have CKD.

People can help protect their kidneys by taking steps to prevent or manage health conditions that can lead to kidney damage, especially diabetes and high blood pressure.

Regular testing can help identify CKD early and prevent additional problems.

Below are other health tips that can help protect the kidneys:

People with diabetes should have annual kidney tests. Individuals with any of the following conditions should also receive regular checkups and monitoring:

A person who experiences symptoms of kidney damage should immediately contact a doctor. Symptoms may include urine changes, fatigue, and decreased appetite.

Kidney damage does not typically present with symptoms in its early stages. As such, it may take some time before causing noticeable changes in the body. Symptoms that may indicate kidney damage are urine changes, fatigue, loss of appetite, and high blood pressure.

People at risk of developing CKD should get regular blood and urine tests to look for signs of kidney damage. Managing any existing conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of developing CKD, is also crucial for helping to prevent kidney damage.

Other preventive steps can include eating a balanced, nutritious diet, exercising frequently, and not smoking.