Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Failure

Our kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located just below your ribcage. They play a vital role in your overall health, acting as a natural filtration system for your blood. They remove waste products, excess fluids, and toxins from your body, keeping your blood pressure stable and your red blood cells healthy.

Unfortunately, kidneys can become damaged or diseased, leading to a condition called kidney failure. Early detection and treatment are crucial to slow the progression of kidney failure and prevent serious health complications.

But how do you know if your kidneys are struggling? Here, we explore the signs and symptoms of kidney failure to help you stay informed and proactive about your health.

Feeling Extreme Fatigue and Weakness

One of the most common signs of kidney failure is a feeling of extreme fatigue and weakness. This is because healthy kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) that stimulates the production of red blood cells.

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, and when your kidneys are failing, they may not produce enough EPO. This can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by a low red blood cell count.

Anemia due to Kidney Failure: When you have anemia, your body’s tissues don’t get enough oxygen. This can leave you feeling constantly tired, weak, and short of breath, even with minimal exertion.

You might struggle to complete everyday tasks, have difficulty concentrating at work or school, and experience a general lack of motivation.

Beyond Fatigue: While fatigue is a prominent symptom, some people with anemia may also experience pale skin, dizziness, headaches, and cold hands and feet due to poor circulation.

Difficulty Concentrating and Brain Fog

The build-up of toxins and waste products in your blood due to kidney failure can affect your brain function in several ways. This can manifest as:

  • Difficulty Concentrating: You might find it hard to focus on tasks at work or school, struggle to follow conversations, and have trouble remembering things you just learned. This can significantly impact your productivity and daily life.
  • Brain Fog: This feeling of mental fuzziness can make it challenging to think clearly, process information efficiently, and make decisions. You might experience forgetfulness, confusion, and a general feeling of being “out of it.”
  • Problems with Memory: Difficulty recalling information, both recent and long-term, can be a symptom of kidney failure. You might forget appointments, struggle to remember details from conversations, or have trouble learning new things.

Frequent Urination at Night (Nocturia)

Healthy kidneys regulate the amount of fluid in your body by filtering out excess fluids and waste products as urine. When they’re not functioning properly, this delicate balance is disrupted. This can lead to:

Frequent Urination at Night (Nocturia): You might find yourself needing to urinate several times during the night, disrupting your sleep and leaving you feeling tired and rundown the next day.

Changes in Urine Output: You might urinate less frequently overall, or experience difficulty starting or stopping urination. This can indicate problems with your bladder function or a reduced ability of your kidneys to process fluids.

Changes in Urination Patterns and Appearance

Kidney failure can disrupt your normal urination patterns and the appearance of your urine. Here’s what to watch out for:

Urgency and Frequency: You might experience a sudden urge to urinate, even if you haven’t consumed much fluid. You might also urinate more frequently than usual, even during the day.

Difficulty Starting or Stopping Urination: This can be a sign of nerve damage or blockage in the urinary tract, and it’s important to consult your doctor if you experience this symptom.

Burning Sensation: Pain or a burning sensation during urination can indicate irritation or inflammation in the urinary tract. This could be caused by a kidney infection or other underlying condition.

Changes in Urine Appearance:

Foamy Urine: The presence of bubbles in your urine can be a sign of protein in the urine, which is a potential indicator of kidney damage.

Bloody Urine: Blood in your urine, even a small amount, is a cause for concern and warrants immediate medical attention. It could be a sign of an infection, kidney stones, or other problems in the urinary tract.

Cloudy Urine: Cloudy urine can indicate infection, dehydration, or the presence of minerals or crystals in the urine. While not always a cause for alarm, it’s best to consult your doctor if you notice persistent cloudiness.

Loss of Appetite and Nausea

Kidney failure can affect your digestive system in several ways, leading to:

Loss of Appetite: The build-up of toxins in your blood can dull your sense of taste and smell, making food less appealing. Additionally, nausea and vomiting can further contribute to a decreased appetite.

Nausea and Vomiting: These symptoms can be triggered by the build-up of toxins and waste products in your blood irritating your stomach lining. They can also be a side effect of medications used to treat kidney disease.

Weight Loss: Due to decreased appetite and difficulty keeping food down, people with kidney failure often experience unintentional weight loss. This can lead to muscle wasting and further weaken your overall health.

Puffiness and Swelling (Edema)

When your kidneys are failing, they can’t effectively remove excess fluids from your body. This fluid buildup leads to edema, or swelling, in various parts of your body. Common areas affected by edema include:

Hands and Ankles: Puffiness in your hands and ankles, especially noticeable in the morning, is a telltale sign of fluid retention due to kidney problems.

Feet: Swelling in your feet can make it difficult to wear shoes and can cause discomfort when walking or standing for extended periods.

Face: Fluid buildup around your eyes can make your eyelids appear puffy, and your face might look swollen overall. This can be particularly noticeable in the morning.

Importance of Early Detection: Edema can also occur due to other health conditions, but it’s crucial to get checked by your doctor to determine the underlying cause, especially if you experience swelling along with other symptoms of kidney failure.

Itchy Skin and Dryness

Healthy kidneys help remove waste products and toxins from your blood that can irritate the skin. When these toxins build up, they can cause various skin problems, including:

Severe Itching: This can be a widespread symptom, affecting your entire body or localized to specific areas. The constant itching can be disruptive to your sleep and significantly impact your quality of life.

Dry Skin: Kidney failure can disrupt your skin’s natural moisture balance, leading to dryness, flakiness, and a rough texture. This can worsen itching and make your skin feel uncomfortable.

Rashes: In some cases, kidney failure can trigger eczema or other types of rashes. These can appear anywhere on the body and may be accompanied by redness, scaling, and irritation.

High Blood Pressure

Healthy kidneys play a crucial role in regulating blood pressure. They help remove excess fluids and sodium from your blood, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels. When your kidneys are damaged, they may not be able to perform this function effectively, leading to:

Elevated Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a common complication of kidney failure. It can put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems.

The Importance of Monitoring Blood Pressure: If you have kidney disease or are at risk for kidney problems, it’s crucial to monitor your blood pressure regularly at home and during doctor visits. Early detection and treatment of high blood pressure can help prevent complications.

Shortness of Breath

As kidney failure progresses, fluid can build up in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. This shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, can worsen with activity and can significantly impact your daily life. Here’s how it manifests:

Difficulty Breathing at Rest: Even when you’re not exerting yourself, you might experience shortness of breath. This can make it challenging to perform daily activities and can disrupt your sleep at night.

Worsening with Activity: Physical activity, such as climbing stairs or walking short distances, can significantly worsen your shortness of breath. This can limit your physical capabilities and make it difficult to stay active.

Fluid Buildup in the Lungs (Pulmonary Edema): In severe cases of kidney failure, fluid can accumulate in the air sacs of your lungs (pulmonary edema). This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Don’t Ignore the Signs: Early Detection is Key

While these symptoms can be caused by other health conditions, it’s crucial to seek medical attention if you experience any of them persistently. Early detection of kidney failure allows for prompt treatment and management, which can significantly improve your quality of life and slow the progression of the disease. Here’s why early intervention is essential:

Preserving Kidney Function: Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further damage to your kidneys and preserve remaining kidney function for as long as possible.

Managing Complications: Early intervention can help manage complications like high blood pressure, anemia, and bone disease, which can arise from kidney failure.

Treatment Options: Depending on the cause and severity of your kidney failure, various treatment options are available, including medication, lifestyle changes, and dialysis. Early diagnosis allows for a wider range of treatment possibilities.

Improved Quality of Life: Early treatment can help you feel better, manage your symptoms, and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.


Early intervention is key. If you’re concerned about your kidney health, talk to your doctor. They can perform simple blood and urine tests to assess your kidney function and determine if further investigation is necessary. By being proactive about your health and seeking medical attention promptly, you can take control of your kidney health and live a long, fulfilling life.

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