People who suffer from chronic kidney disease may not realize it because the first symptoms are often imperceptible. It can take a few years before chronic kidney disease becomes severe. In fact, some sufferers from kidney disease live their whole lives without having developed severe kidney disorders.

However, in whichever phase of kidney failure a patient finds himself, knowledge is power. By knowing the symptoms of kidney disease, patients can seek the necessary treatment to feel better. If you or someone you know has symptoms of kidney disease they should go to the doctor for a blood and urine analysis. Remember, many of the symptoms listed here can also point to a different cause, one that is not related to kidney disease. The only way to know the cause of the symptoms is to go to the doctor.

First Symptom: Changes in urination

Your kidneys produce urine, and when they your kidneys are sick your urine will change. But how?

  • You get up at night to urinate.
  • Your urine is foamy or bubbly; you have to urinate more frequently or with more quantity than normal, and you have very pale-colored urine.
  • You urinate less frequently, with less quantity than normal; you have dark-colored urine.
  • Your urine is bloody.
  • You feel pressure or difficulty when urinating.

What patients say:

  • When I go to the bathroom I can’t finish urinating completely. I feel strain and pressure in my lower body.
  • I began to notice my urine. I began to go to the bathroom frequently and when I got there nothing happened. I thought I had to go to the bathroom but when I’m there only two or three drops come out.
  • There was blood in my urine. It was so dark it looked like grape juice. And when I got to the hospital they thought that I was lying about the color of my urine.

Second symptom: swelling

Kidneys that are diseased cannot get rid of the extra fluid in your body, which then accumulates and can cause swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face and hands..

What patients say:

  • I remember that my ankles were very swollen. They were so large that I couldn’t even put on my shoes.
  • My sister began to lose her hair. She lost weight but her face was so swollen until we found out what was happening with her.
  • When I went to work one morning my left ankle was swollen, really swollen, and it was difficult to walk to the bus stop. That’s when I realized I had to visit my doctor.

Third symptom: Fatigue

Healthy kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin, which is responsible for the body producing red blood cells that transport oxygen in the blood. The production of erythropoietin diminishes by half when your kidneys lose function. Your muscles and your mind get tired very quickly when you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen; it’s the same symptom as in anemia, but anemia is treatable.

What patients say:

  • I found that I was always tired and I didn’t have energy for anything.
  • I used to sleep a lot. I got to the house from work and went straight to bed.
  • It’s like I was continually tired. I felt used up, debilitated without doing anything—just completely exhausted.

Fourth symptom: rash or itching

Your kidneys remove waste from the blood. When your kidneys fail, the waste begins to accumulate in the blood and can cause strong sense of itching.

What patients say:

  • This wasn’t like normal itching on the skin or something, this was down to the bone. I had to use a brush to find relief. Until I had blood on my back from so much scratching.
  • My skin opened up from rash, from scratching myself so much.

Fifth Symptom: Metallic taste in the mouth/breath that smells like ammonia

The accumulation of waste in the blood is called uremia. It can change the flavor of food and can cause bad breath. Patients can also note that they start to dislike meat or that they lose weight because they don’t feel like eating.

What patients say:

  • A terrible taste in the mouth. As if I were drinking iron.
  • I didn’t have an appetite I used to have.
  • Before beginning dialysis I lost 5 kg.

Sixth symptom: Nausea and vomiting

A large build up of waste in the blood (uremia) can also cause nausea and vomiting. Together with a loss of appetite, this can cause weight loss.

What patients say:

  • Everything itched, I felt nauseous, and I continually vomited. My stomach couldn’t retain anything.
  • When I felt nauseous I couldn’t eat; it became difficult for me to take my blood pressure medication.

Seventh symptom: loss of breath

Difficulty catching your breath can be related to the kidneys in two ways. Firstly, the extra fluid from your body can accumulate in your lungs. And secondly, anemia—the lack of red blood cells, which transfer oxygen—can leave your body needing oxygen and you with a lack of breath.

What patients say:

  • It was very alarming to experience a lack of breath. It made me scared—I thought that I was going to fall down or something like that. What I used to do was sit down for a little bit.
  • I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t get enough breath, it was like I was drowning or something like that. And the swelling—I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t go anywhere by walking. I felt bad.
  • You go up a few steps and you’re left without breath, or you’re working and you get tired and have to stop.

Eighth symptom: feeling cold

Anemia can make you feel very cold all the time, even in a warm room.

What patients say:

  • I realized that I was sometimes so cold I shivered.
  • Sometimes I feel very, very cold. It can be hot outside and I’m still cold.

Ninth Symptom: Dizziness and concentration problems.

Suffering from anemia related to kidney disease means that your brain is not getting enough oxygen. This can bring memory problems, lack of concentration and dizziness.

What patients say:

  • I knew it; I commented to my wife that my memory was bad. I couldn’t remember anything that I did the last week or what I did 10 days before. I couldn’t concentrate. Normally I enjoy doing crosswords and reading.
  • I was always tired and dizzy.
  • There came a moment when I was at work and suddenly I began to feel dizzy. And so I thought that my problem was due to high blood pressure or diabetes. This is what was going through my mind.

10th symptom: Pain in the sides or legs

People with kidney problems may feel pain in their backs or in the side of the sick kidney. Polycystic kidney disease, which causes fluid-filled cysts in the kidneys and sometimes the liver, can cause pain.

What patients say:

  • Two years ago I went to the bathroom all the time and the bottom part of my back always hurt. I wondered why…until they diagnosed me with kidney problems.
  • I had to get up all the time at night and I had pains in my side and my back. You feel like you can’t even move.
  • At night my sides were always in pain. It was worse than the pain of giving birth. I would cry and my husband would get up and massage my legs.