Dr James Fotheringham talks about the symptoms of kidney disease
What are they?
Most people with early kidney disease don’t have any symptoms at all, and so don’t know that there’s anything wrong with their kidneys. More advanced kidney disease can cause a range of symptoms, although none of these symptoms occur only in kidney disease.
What are the symptoms in more advanced kidney disease?
People with more advanced kidney disease can experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms.
Symptoms can include:
- tiredness and lack of energy
- dry skin
- difficulty sleeping
- poor appetite and weight loss
- decreased interest in sex and/or difficulty becoming sexually aroused
- bone or joint pain
- muscle cramps
- restless legs
- swollen ankles, feet or hands caused by water retention (oedema)
- feeling sick
- dizziness or light-headedness
- finding it difficult to concentrate
- feeling sad, irritable or anxious
- shortness of breath
In general, symptoms are more severe in more advanced kidney disease. Most people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) stages G1, G2, and G3a should expect few, if any, symptoms. In stages G3b, G4 and G5, symptoms get increasingly common, but it can still be difficult to be certain whether the symptoms are due to CKD or to some other cause. Symptoms are frequent in people on dialysis and very frequent in people receiving active supportive care without dialysis. The risk of symptoms in transplant patients depends on how well the transplanted kidney is working.
Speak to your GP if you have any of these symptoms
The symptoms of kidney disease can be caused by other less serious conditions, but it’s still important to get them checked out by your GP. If a kidney problem is detected, depending on the problem, early diagnosis and treatment can help to slow down any damage. Your GP will use blood and urine tests to check for kidney disease.
Speak to your kidney doctor if any symptoms are affecting your quality of life
Most people with advanced kidney disease are likely to experience a number of the symptoms listed. Collectively, they can have a potentially negative effect on your quality of life. So don’t hesitate to speak to your kidney doctor or nurse for support with any physical or emotional problems as a result of your kidney disease.
You may also find it helpful to take a look at our support section for information on a range of topics including charity-run counselling services, financial help and how to get in touch with other kidney patients).
Get your kidneys checked out
In most people, early stage kidney disease does not cause any obvious symptoms. So it’s a good idea to get your kidneys checked out by your GP or pharmacist as part of your free NHS Health Check (offered to people aged 40-74).
You may also find it useful to use our interactive kidney disease health check tool.
You should also visit your GP if you think you may have blood in your urine as this can be an indication of kidney problems.
Download our leaflet
You can find out more about kidney disease in our Are your kidneys OK? leaflet.
The leaflet is also designed for use in primary care, within GP practices and other organisations. If you would like to receive a large amount of the 'Are your kidneys OK?' leaflet, please email our Supporter Care Team for more information or call on 0300 303 1100.
Reviewed April 2019
Need for more research
We don’t fully understand what causes many of the symptoms that trouble patients with CKD, nor how best to treat them. Therefore, we are actively funding many projects aimed at alleviating symptoms of kidney disease, including a recent project on itchy skin.
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