The symptoms of kidney or renal failure include decreased urination, swelling in limbs, and itchy skin. Symptoms often develop slowly but can sometimes appear suddenly.

Doctors diagnose kidney failure when the kidneys are functioning below 15% of their full capacity.

When kidney failure occurs, it usually results from a gradual loss of function over time. A person may not know they have kidney failure unless they find out through a test for another condition.

In some cases, a person may experience acute kidney injury or acute kidney failure. When this happens, symptoms will typically occur within days instead of slowly over time. Acute kidney failure usually results from another condition, such as sepsis.

Many of the symptoms occur because of uremia, which refers to the retention of waste products in the body that the kidneys cannot remove. Uremia can cause symptoms throughout the body.

This article reviews the signs and symptoms of kidney failure.

One sign of kidney failure is decreased urine output. The kidneys play a key role in removing fluids from the blood, filtering waste from urine, and removing urine from the body.

If the kidneys are not working correctly, they will not be able to do this.

Kidney failure can lead to swelling in the limbs. The kidneys are essential for managing fluid levels in the body.

If the kidneys cannot eliminate excess fluid it will build up in the body, leading to swelling, for instance, in the ankles, hands, and feet.

Fatigue is a common symptom of kidney failure. The kidneys produce erythropoietin, a hormone needed to create red blood cells. Low levels of red blood cells can lead to anemia. A key symptom of anemia is fatigue.

What is the link between anemia and kidney disease?

People with kidney failure may experience shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea. Factors that may contribute to this include a buildup of fluid in the lungs, anemia, and cardiovascular problems.

These symptoms may occur as the kidneys lose their ability to manage fluid levels and contribute to red blood cell production.

Nausea can be common in kidney failure. Possible reasons include uremia (blood in the urine), electrolyte imbalances, and medication use.

Some people may also develop gastric complications, such as uremic gastropathy, which affects the upper gastrointestinal tract.

A person with kidney failure may experience confusion and difficulty remembering things or focusing.

One reason for this is uremic encephalopathy, when toxins build up in the brain due to low kidney function. Other possible causes include medication use, electrolyte imbalances, a buildup of fluid, and inflammation.

What is the link between confusion and kidney failure?

Kidney failure can lead to uremic pruritis, which involves itchy skin. The kidneys are part of a process that helps manage levels of parathyroid hormone in the body. If parathyroid hormone levels become too high, this can result in itching.

High levels of phosphorus or dry skin can also make a person feel itchy. Other possible causes include inflammation of the skin and nerves.

Persistent itching can also affect a person’s ability to sleep, mental health, and overall quality of life.

Can kidney disease cause itching?

Headaches may occur due to a build up of toxins in the brain, known as uremic encephalopathy. They are also common among people undergoing dialysis, possibly as a result of changes in blood pressure and changes in electrolyte balance.

Muscle cramps, weakness, or numbness can occur with kidney failure. The kidneys help manage levels of minerals and salts in the blood, such as calcium, sodium, phosphorus, and potassium.

An imbalance in these substances can lead to muscle cramps and other symptoms.

Because the kidneys manage fluid levels in the body, they play a key role in regulating blood pressure. They also produce hormones needed for managing blood pressure.

Problems with kidney function may lead to symptoms such as high blood pressure and problems with heart function. People with renal failure have a higher risk of heart disease.

What is the link between heart failure and the kidneys?

The kidneys’ role in hormone production and management is essential for strong bones. If they cannot fulfill these functions, a person may experience a thinning and weakening of the bones and stiffness and pain in the joints.

Changes in the balance of electrolytes and other factors can affect a person’s sense of taste.

In some research, involving 104 people with end-stage chronic kidney disease, 28.7% of participants had a loss of taste, while others reported a metallic taste in the mouth.

Malnutrition can affect people with kidney disease for various reasons.

The symptoms of kidney disease can make a person feel unwell. Kidney problems can also affect a person’s sense of taste.

These and other factors can lead to a loss in appetite, making it challenging to follow a regular, nutritious diet.

Kidney failure can affect a person’s mental health in various ways, and anxiety and depression are common challenges.

The need for intensive treatment, concerns about the future, and other factors can severely impact a person’s quality of life. In addition, medication use and physical changes, such as electrolyte imbalances, can affect how a person thinks and feels.

A doctor or other health professional may be able to help a person manage their mental health while living with kidney failure.

How can kidney disease affect a person’s mental health?

Here are some questions people often ask about kidney failure.

What are the first warning signs of kidney failure?

Most people with kidney failure have no symptoms in the early stages. As symptoms appear, a person may notice they urinate less, their ankles swell due to fluid retention, and so on. People with acute kidney failure may experience the same symptoms but more suddenly.

What are the signs of kidney damage?

How long can you live with kidney failure?

Kidney failure may be fatal without treatment.

With dialysis, a person with chronic kidney failure may live another 5 to 10 years on average. If the person receives a kidney from a living donor, they may live another 15 to 20 years. However, life expectancy can vary widely between individuals.

Some people with acute kidney injury make a full recovery, although this will depend on various individual factors and how soon the person receives treatment.

What are the 4 stages of acute kidney injury?

The four main stages of acute kidney injury are:

  1. initiation, when there may be no symptoms but kidney damage has started
  2. oligo-anuria, when symptoms begin and may start to become severe
  3. polyuria, when kidney function starts to improve, although symptoms may still be present
  4. restitution, or the restoration of kidney function

However, not all cases will follow these stages.

Anyone who suddenly develops symptoms that may indicate kidney failure should seek medical help as soon as possible as they may need urgent treatment.

A person with known risk factors can consider regular screenings for kidney damage or failure. Possible factors include:

  • a family history of kidney failure
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • heart disease

Treatment for kidney failure includes either dialysis or a kidney transplant. With treatment, a person may live for several more years, depending on their age and other factors.