When Jason Chirichigno was a medical resident, he’d see it all the time: a patient would come in complaining of a few seemingly banal symptoms — a little extra fatigue, a little shortness of breath. Maybe a loss of appetite. Then, as the One Medical Los Angeles provider puts it, “Bam — they’d be in renal failure.”
The signs can be so subtle, you may not even know you have a problem. And the signature symptoms are so common, you may attribute them to something else entirely. But 26 million Americans are dealing with chronic kidney disease.
Why Your Kidneys Matter
Your kidneys play such an important role in your health, the entire month of March is dedicated to promoting awareness around keeping them in top shape.
“The kidneys are incredibly vital organs,” says Brian Secemsky, a doctor in San Francisco. “Among other functions, they regulate blood pressure and detoxify the blood of harmful products.” When they’re working well, the kidneys also direct the production of red blood cells, which supply the body with oxygen.
But for one in three Americans, these vital organs are at risk for disease, and most people don’t know the signs that signify trouble.
7 Symptoms of Kidney Disease to Look Out For
“Typically, there aren’t many symptoms in the early stages of kidney disease,” Secemsky says. But if you’re at an increased risk, you’ll want to keep an eye on your body’s signals.
In addition to advocating a healthy diet and exercise to keep blood pressure and diabetes — two big risk factors — in check, Secemsky says it’s important to get a comprehensive family history, especially if any kind of kidney disease has happened to family members at a young age.
And if you’re Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Native American, or an older adult, you may also have an increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease too.
“These groups have higher rates of conditions like diabetes and hypertension, so it’s really important for anyone at risk to have a good relationship a primary care provider and know their numbers, lose weight if necessary, and cut back on salt and sugar,” Chirichigno says. “High blood pressure tends to be asymptomatic, so it’s crucial to have a good provider who can keep an eye on it.”
You’ll need to work with a provider to get a proper diagnosis and treatment, but these signs could indicate that your kidneys are in trouble. If you suspect your kidneys could be in trouble, make sure you know the signs of CKD:
1. Changes in Your Urination
Pay attention to any changes in the color and consistency of your urine and take note if you start urinating less often than normal or much more frequently than you normally do.
2. Nausea and Vomiting
The kidneys filter the blood, so if they’re not working properly, the waste buildup can cause digestive distress.
3. Unexplained Swelling in Any Part of Your Body
Without proper kidney function, extra fluid can build up in the body and cause swelling in the face, legs, ankles, feet or hands.
4. Bad Breath, Loss of Appetite or a Metallic Taste in Your Mouth
An unexplained loss of appetite accompanied by bad breath and a weird, metallic taste in the mouth can result from a buildup of waste in the blood.
5. Feeling Cold, Tired, Dizzy and Out of Breath
The kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin that’s important for the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. CKD can interrupt this process and result in decreased red blood cells, otherwise known as anemia. Two of the hallmarks symptoms of anemia are fatigue and feeling cold. The lack of oxygen in the body can also leave you feeling winded and make it difficult to concentrate. having difficulty concentrating.
6. Feeling Pain in Your Back, Side, or Legs
You may have pain in the upper back where the kidneys are located, or on the side of the body where the affected kidney is. Some people also feel pain in their legs.
7. Suffering from Dry, Itchy Skin
The buildup of waste in the body can also affect the skin, causing severe itching or rashes.
How to Reduce Your Risk
The good news is that even if you’re in a high-risk group, you can take steps now to lower your chances of developing kidney disease:
- Manage your other health conditions. Diabetes and high blood pressure are responsible for most kidney disease cases, so getting a handle on those conditions can seriously impact your kidney health.
- Get the right tests. Work with your provider to make sure you’re receiving the right tests to detect CKD. These include a blood pressure measurement, a urine test and a blood test.
- Keep your weight in check. According to a report from Johns Hopkins University, obese people are twice as likely to develop kidney disease. Clean up your diet by cutting excess salt and sugar and steering clear of processed foods.
- Ditch the cigarettes. There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking, but here’s another: smokers are more likely to develop CKD. Kick the habit today.
If you’re at an increased risk for kidney disease or you suspect your experiencing symptoms, make an appointment with your provider so they can help you and your kidneys stay as healthy as possible.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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