Don't forget to think about your kidneys

One of the most common things we hear from people with kidney disease is that they didn’t realise just how important their kidneys were until they stopped working properly.

High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD) yet there is not enough awareness of the risks of developing kidney disease, particularly if you have one or both of these conditions.

In its early stages, CKD is ‘silent’ and doesn’t usually cause symptoms, but as it gets more advanced, there are some signs you may notice.

We’ve created this video to help highlight the seven most common symptoms that might be linked to a problem with your kidneys – please share this with your family and friends and help us raise awareness of kidney disease, particularly for those most at risk.

These are all typical signs you might notice once your kidneys have some significant damage. But it’s important to bear in mind they can all be symptoms of other conditions and only your doctor can confirm CKD is causing them. Always make an appointment if you notice any of these symptoms.

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Muscle cramps

Occasional cramps are normal, but poor kidney function can cause more muscle cramping.

Dry, itchy skin

Experts don’t know exactly why kidney disease leads to very dry, itchy skin. But it may be connected to a few different factors including toxins in the blood and an imbalance in levels of minerals in your body.

Poor appetite

A common symptom of everything from stress to a range of serious illnesses, poor appetite can happen in CKD because of a build-up of toxins.

Nausea

CKD can cause feelings of sickness because your kidneys are not removing toxins from your body properly.

Tiredness and brain fog

When your kidney function dips, toxins build up in your blood, which can make you feel tired and struggle to concentrate. Also, CKD can cause anaemia – a lack of red blood cells – which can cause tiredness too.

Sleep problems

There are a few reasons CKD can affect your sleep. Toxins can build up and circulate in your blood, which can keep you awake. Obesity is an underlying cause of both CKD and obstructive sleep apnoea, which can cause you to wake very briefly lots of times through the night. And needing to go to the loo in the night can seriously disrupt your sleep.

Blood in your wee (urine)

This can be caused by lots of different things but kidney disease is one of them.

When your kidneys are working properly, they keep the blood cells in your body when they’re filtering waste out of your blood. If the kidneys’ filters are damaged, though, some blood cells can leak into your wee. If you see blood in your wee, you should always see your doctor urgently so they can rule out infections, plus more serious things such as cancer of the bladder and kidneys.

Foamy wee

Froth in your wee is a sign there are high levels of protein in it, especially if you have to flush a few times to clear the bubbles. Hint: it may look like the foam you see on the surface when you’re scrambling eggs, because the type of protein that ends up in urine is the same as the albumin found in eggs.

Needing to wee more often

Healthy kidneys filter your blood and pass waste out in your urine. But when the kidneys are damaged, they may make wee that contains mostly water, with few waste products. That means you may end up needing to go to the toilet more often, especially at night.

Puffy eyes, ankles and feet

Noticed puffiness around your eyes and/or swollen ankles and feet? When your kidneys are not removing excess water and waste from your body, it can build up in your tissues. This leads to swelling, usually in your lower body, although it can affect other areas, including around your eyes and sometimes your hands. If untreated, it may progress to excess water in the lungs causing shortness of breath. Doctors call this ‘pulmonary oedema’.

Find out more about how to take control of your kidney health.

Stages of kidney disease

The five stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD) range from being at risk through to kidney failure, when your kidneys stop working.