Senior Health

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Signs and Symptoms of Renal Disease

Kidney disease, known by its medical name renal disease, can sometimes go unnoticed unless you know what signs and symptoms to look for.


Kidney disease can creep up on an individual silently. Unless an individual gets their labs monitored regularly by their physician, it can sneak up over a matter of years. Once a certain amount of kidney function is lost, as of now there is no way to reverse loss, only to prevent further losses of kidney function. There are a number of signs and symptoms of renal disease—but these may not be noticeable to the individual immediately.

The primary role of the kidneys is to filter out nitrogenous waste products, as well as regulate the sodium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium levels in the bloodstream. The kidneys also produce a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) –which signals and stimulates bone marrow cells to produce new red blood cells. One of the signs and symptoms of renal disease is anemia, due to lowered erythropoietin hormone levels resulting in fewer red blood cells being produced in bone marrow.

Signs and symptoms of renal disease depend upon the individual and the stage of renal disease. Medical professionals can determine which stage of renal disease someone is in by looking at their GFR level, as measured by a blood test. GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate, a number which serves as a biomarker for how well the kidneys are filtering nitrogenous waste product out of the bloodstream.

Stages of Renal Disease

Age may play a role in decreased GFR, according to recent research.

What causes kidney disease?

There are two primary causes of renal disease, diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). Other short-term kidney issues can arise from infection or surgery, but the two main culprits remain diabetes and hypertension. As we age, we are at higher risk for these two conditions, and so kidney disease follows on the heels of these two conditions.

For the first 4 stages of renal disease, normally it is easy to control with diet and medication to ensure that all possible kidney function is retained. However, once an individual has a GFR of less than 15, which indicates very low renal function, then they will need to begin dialysis treatment. Dialysis is a very involved process, with a number of different methods of administration of dialysis fluid to do the work the kidneys are no longer able to do.

When kidney disease becomes advanced, it is called end-stage renal disease, and requires dialysis. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a service of the National Institute of Health (NIH), some of the signs and symptoms of end-stage renal disease are listed below.

Signs and symptoms of end-stage renal disease

● General ill feeling and fatigue
● Itching and dry skin
● Headaches
● Unintended weight loss
● Loss of appetite
● Nausea
● Abnormally dark or light skin
● Nail changes
● Bone pain
● Drowsiness and confusion
● Problems concentrating or thinking
● Numbness in the hands, feet, or other areas
● Muscle twitching or cramps
● Breath odor
● Easy bruising, nosebleeds, or blood in the stool
● Excessive thirst
● Frequent hiccups
● Problems with sexual function
● Menstrual periods stop (amenorrhea)
● Sleep problems
● Swelling of the feet and hands (edema)
● Vomiting, often in the morning

If you or someone you love has experienced some of these symptoms, if they have diabetes or high blood pressure, then they need to see a physician.



U.S. National Library of Medicine. End stage renal disease. Accessed September 1, 2015.

Richard Glassock, MD; Pierre Delanaye, MD, PhD; Meguid El Nahas, MD, PhD, FRCP An Age-Calibrated Classification of Chronic Kidney Disease. JAMA. 2015;314(6):559-560. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.6731.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on February 27, 2016. Updated on May 18, 2016.


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