Signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease develop over time if kidney damage progresses slowly. Loss of kidney function can cause a buildup of fluid or body waste or electrolyte problems. Depending on how severe it is, loss of kidney function can cause:
Loss of appetite
Fatigue and weakness
Urinating more or less
Decreased mental sharpness
Swelling of feet and ankles
Dry, itchy skin
High blood pressure (hypertension) that’s difficult to control
Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
Signs and symptoms of kidney disease are often nonspecific. This means they can also be caused by other illnesses. Because your kidneys are able to make up for lost function, you might not develop signs and symptoms until irreversible damage has occurred.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of kidney disease. Early detection might help prevent kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure.
Kidney disease complications can be controlled to make you more comfortable. Treatments might include:
High blood pressure medications: People with kidney disease can have worsening high blood pressure. Your doctor might recommend medications to lower your blood pressure — commonly angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers — and to preserve kidney function.
High blood pressure medications can initially decrease kidney function and change electrolyte levels, so you might need frequent blood tests to monitor your condition. Your doctor may also recommend a water pill (diuretic) and a low-salt diet.
Medications to relieve swelling: People with chronic kidney disease often retain fluids. This can lead to swelling in the legs as well as high blood pressure. Medications called diuretics can help maintain the balance of fluids in your body.
Medications to treat anemia. Supplements of the hormone erythropoietin (uh-rith-roe-POI-uh-tin), sometimes with added iron, help produce more red blood cells. This might relieve fatigue and weakness associated with anemia.
Medications to lower cholesterol levels. Your doctor might recommend medications called statins to lower your cholesterol. People with chronic kidney disease often have high levels of bad cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Medications to protect your bones. Calcium and vitamin D supplements can help prevent weak bones and lower your risk of fracture. You might also take medication known as a phosphate binder to lower the amount of phosphate in your blood and protect your blood vessels from damage by calcium deposits (calcification).
A lower protein diet to minimize waste products in your blood. As your body processes protein from foods, it creates waste products that your kidneys must filter from your blood. To reduce the amount of work your kidneys must do, your doctor might recommend eating less protein. A registered dietitian can suggest ways to lower your protein intake while still eating a healthy diet.
Your doctor might recommend regular follow-up testing to see whether your kidney disease remains stable or progresses.
Treatment for end-stage kidney disease:
If your kidneys can’t keep up with waste and fluid clearance on their own and you develop complete or near-complete kidney failure, you have end-stage kidney disease. At that point, you need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Dialysis: Dialysis artificially removes waste products and extra fluid from your blood when your kidneys can no longer do this. In hemodialysis, a machine filters waste and excess fluids from your blood.
In peritoneal dialysis, a thin tube inserted into your abdomen fills your abdominal cavity with a dialysis solution that absorbs waste and excess fluids. After a time, the dialysis solution drains from your body, carrying the waste with it.
Kidney transplant: A kidney transplant involves surgically placing a healthy kidney from a donor into your body. Transplanted kidneys can come from deceased or living donors.
After a transplant, you’ll need to take medications for the rest of your life to keep your body from rejecting the new organ. You don’t need to be on dialysis to have a kidney transplant.
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