Kidney Disease Center

Kidney Failure Symptoms

Kidney disease often evolves silently over many years, with no signs or symptoms. Many times the signs are too general for a person to suspect kidney trouble. The following problems may be warning signs of kidney disease. They should not be ignored. Prompt medical attention is essential when any of these conditions are present.

Symptoms of acute renal failure
The primary symptom of acute kidney failure is changes in urination. In other words, when the kidneys are failing, the urine may change. The changes may manifest in the following ways:

  • dark colored urine
  • feeling pressure or have difficulty urinating
  • foamy or bubbly urine
  • getting up at night to urinate
  • urinating less often
  • urinating in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine
  • urinating more often
  • urine containing blood

Symptoms of chronic kidney failure

Dizziness - Anemia related to kidney failure can result in the brain not receiving enough oxygen. This usually leads to memory problems, trouble with concentration, and dizziness.

Fatigue - Healthy kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin which tells the body to make oxygen-carrying red blood cells. When the kidneys begin to fail, they make less erythropoietin. With fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen, the muscles and brain can become tired very quickly.

Leg or flank pain - Some people with kidney problems can experience pain in the back or side related to the affected kidney. Polycystic kidney disease, which causes large, fluid-filled cysts on the kidneys and sometimes the liver, usually cause pain.

Metallic taste in mouth/ammonia breath - A build-up of wastes in the blood (called uremia) can make food taste different and cause bad breath.

Nausea and vomiting - A severe build-up of wastes in the blood (referred to as uremia) can also cause nausea and vomiting.

Shortness of breath - Trouble catching your breath can be related to the kidneys if extra fluid in the body builds up in the lungs.

Skin rash and itching - When the kidneys fail, the build-up of wastes in the blood may cause severe itching.

Swelling - Failing kidneys do not remove extra fluid. This extra fluid can build up in your body. This may result in swelling in the:

  • ankles
  • face
  • feet
  • hands
  • legs

Weight loss - Some people stop liking to eat meat, or lose weight due to lack of appetite.

Acute kidney failure can be fatal. Death rates are highest when the kidneys fail post surgery or trauma or in the context of severe, chronic medical problems. Because acute kidney failure is usually a complication of some other serious disorder, kidney failure can be attributed to the underlying, primary disease.

On occasion, acute kidney failure causes permanent loss of kidney function, or end-stage renal disease. People with end-stage renal disease require either permanent dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. Other factors can adversely affect the outcome of acute kidney failure. These other factors include:

  • a postoperative stroke
  • a recent history of stroke or heart attack
  • advanced age
  • gastrointestinal bleeding
  • infection
  • multiorgan failure
  • multiple blood transfusions
  • pre-existing malnutrition

When to seek help
Call your doctor if you experience any of the signs and symptoms of either acute or chronic kidney failure. Seek medical attention immediately even if you have no risk factors for renal failure if you experience any of the following changes in urination:

  • blood in the urine
  • urinating much more than usual
  • urinating much less than usual

It's important to diagnose and treat symptoms of kidney failure when they are first noticed. This will help prevent the symptoms from worsening. To learn more about how kidney problems are diagnosed, check out the next section on diagnosing signs of kidney failure now.

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