In terms of vital organs, the average person knows far more about their heart, brain, lungs, or stomach than they do about their kidneys.
But knowing what your kidneys do to keep your body healthy and what signs and symptoms may mean they aren’t working as well as they should is often the best way to find kidney disease at its earliest, most treatable stage.
Your kidneys are in the back of your upper abdominal cavity. Their main job is to filter extra water and waste out of your blood so they can leave your body through your urine.
When healthy, these bean-shaped organs, about the size of a fist, are strong and work well. However, they are also vulnerable to damage, especially when they are repeatedly exposed to the effects of diabetes, high blood pressure, or another illness that affects kidney function.
If your kidneys get too damaged over time, they won’t be able to clean your blood as well. This long-term, getting worse disease is also called chronic kidney disease. It affects more than 30 million adults in the U.S., and many of them won’t know they have it until it gets worse or causes kidney failure.
Although testing for kidney disease is the only way to know for sure if you have it, understanding its early signs may be what inspires you to get checked in the first place.
Dr. W. Cooper Buschemeyer of the Stone Relief Center in Woodlands, Texas, suggests the following eight warning signs:
1. Your energy levels have dropped dramatically.
When your kidney function deteriorates, your blood contains higher levels of toxins and other pollutants. In addition to sapping your energy levels, this toxic buildup can make it harder to concentrate and leave you feeling weaker and less resilient than normal.
2. Your skin appears to be dry and itchy.
Aside from filtering waste and surplus fluid from your blood, your kidneys play a crucial role in maintaining the proper mineral balance in your blood and keeping your bones strong.
Dry, itchy skin can be a sign of mineral and bone disease, which happens when your kidneys can’t balance the salt, potassium, calcium, and other important minerals in your blood properly.
3. You have to go to the bathroom more often.
If you have to go to the bathroom more often than usual, you might think you have a urinary tract infection. However, an increased need to go to the bathroom, especially at night, can also be a sign of chronic kidney disease.
4. You have blood in your urine.
Blood in your urine can be caused by a number of underlying health problems, such as bladder cancer or kidney stones. It is also a common sign of chronic kidney disease. Because clogged kidney filters can’t always separate blood cells from waste, these “leaked” blood cells can end up in your urine.
5. Your pee is typically frothy.
If you observe a lot of bubbles, froth, or foam in the toilet after going to the bathroom, you may have a lot of protein in your urine.
Good kidneys take extra fluid and waste out of your blood and put back in proteins and other important nutrients. Protein is more likely to escape through your urine if your kidneys are damaged.
6. Your eyes are always swollen.
Protein leakage from renal illness is not only manifested by frothy urine. If your kidneys are allowing huge amounts of protein to escape through your urine, you may also begin to suffer from persistent puffiness around your eyes.
7. Your legs and feet are swollen.
Long-term swelling in your calves, ankles, or feet can be a sign of more serious conditions like heart disease or liver disease. However, poor kidney function can also cause a salt imbalance in your blood, which can cause your hands or feet to keep getting bigger.
8. You get regular muscle cramps.
Chronic renal disease can cause electrolyte imbalances that make muscles work less well and cause cramps. This is because your kidneys help keep the minerals in your blood in balance, and many of these minerals also act as electrolytes.
Remember that if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure, or are over 60, you are more likely to develop chronic kidney disease.
The sooner you find out you have chronic kidney disease, the sooner you can save your kidneys and stop further damage.