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7 Sneaky Signs of Kidney Disease


Emcara Health Editors


July 05, 2022


These early symptoms are easy to miss—unless you’re watching for them.

By Dan Roe

Your kidneys are like the body’s trash haulers. They remove waste from your blood and send it to your bladder, where it’s disposed of when you urinate. 

Most people don’t appreciate the daily work the kidneys are doing as they go about life. But they sure notice when the kidneys stop working properly, and the trash piles up. 

Unlike bags of garbage collecting at the curb, though, you might not notice the first signs of kidney disease. About 37 million Americans have damaged kidneys, but most don’t know it, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). High blood sugar from diabetes and high blood pressure can damage your kidneys, which means that people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are often managing other chronic diseases as well. 

Once your kidneys lose function, it’s gone for good. Symptoms like fatigue and swelling tend to progress as the disease gets worse. Eventually, people with end-stage renal failure require dialysis treatments to artificially filter their blood in order to survive. 

However, you can slow the progression of the disease and live a healthy life with partial kidney function by catching kidney damage early, and working with your Emcara Health care team to develop a treatment and dietary plan.

Get in touch with your care team if you observe any of the following symptoms to ensure you aren’t living with declining kidneys. 

Sneaky Sign #1: Foam or Blood in Urine

The first indication that you might have kidney disease may be in the toilet. Foamy urine indicates that your kidneys could be leaking protein into your pee, which produces the same type of bubbles you get when you beat an egg. 

Your kidneys are supposed to keep dietary protein inside your body. But diseases that affect the kidney, such as diabetes and lupus, can cause this protein leakage into the toilet, according to Northwestern Medicine. There are other possible causes of foam in the urine, but if you also have concurrent symptoms like swelling in the lower legs or around the eyes, check with your doctor or Emcara Health care manager immediately. The combination of those symptoms is a strong indicator of a serious kidney issue

Damaged kidneys can allow blood to leak into urine as well. Bloody urine has several different causes, so get it checked right away. 

Sneaky Sign #2: Urine Color Changes

Your pee may change color if you’ve recently had caffeine or certain supplements, but any prolonged change deserves attention. Kidney disease may darken your urine as certain toxins and pigments aren’t filtered out, according to the Mayo Clinic

People with damaged kidneys may also need to pee more often, the NKF reports, particularly at night. Or you may not need to urinate as much. Both are also symptoms of urinary tract infections, which can occur more frequently and take longer to treat with CKD.

Sneaky Sign #3: Swollen Feet and Ankles

In addition to filtering waste and toxins out of your blood, your kidneys help control the amount of fluid in your body by regulating your sodium levels. If your kidneys are damaged, you may retain salt and see swelling in your extremities, such as your legs, ankles, feet, face, or hands, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine

Talk to your Emcara Health care team about swelling in your extremities—it could also be liver disease or heart disease, according to the NKF.

Sneaky Sign #4: Muscle Cramps

Kidneys help your body maintain a balance of electrolytes—key minerals like calcium, sodium, and potassium that your muscles need to function properly. Kidney disease can throw your electrolyte levels out of whack, according to the NKF, and that can cause your muscles to cramp. 

An Emcara Health provider can work with you to develop a diet that helps you regulate your electrolyte levels. Don’t start supplementing electrolytes without consulting your care team, however. People with kidney disease frequently end up with too much potassium, according to the American Kidney Fund, which can be dangerous for your heart. 

Sneaky Sign #5: Dry or Itchy Skin

In more advanced stages of kidney disease, your skin may turn drier or itchier as your kidneys struggle to maintain the appropriate levels of minerals and nutrients in your blood, according to the NKF. 

A buildup of toxins in your blood may also cause your skin to turn gray or pale all over, or you may find areas of darkened skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology

Sneaky Sign #6: Fatigue or Trouble Concentrating

Toxins in your blood can cause you to feel tired or groggy, or you may feel exhausted because kidney disease symptoms like itchiness or restless leg syndrome are hurting your sleep. 

You may also feel tired because you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood. Damaged kidneys may struggle to produce the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which instructs your body to make more oxygen-carrying red blood cells, according to the NKF. Less oxygen in your blood means less energy, so talk to an Emcara Health care team member if you’re feeling sluggish.

Sneaky Sign #7: Decreased Appetite or Metallic Taste

Urea is a waste product of metabolism, something your kidneys normally filter out as urine. In kidney disease, urea instead builds up in your bloodstream, causing symptoms that may include weakness, exhaustion, high blood pressure, swelling, and more. 

The toxic buildup can also impair your appetite or cause foods to taste metallic. Your breath may even begin to smell like ammonia, according to the National Institutes of Health, when your kidneys can’t excrete the waste product in urine.

If you’re experiencing any these symptoms, call your care team right away. To learn more about Emcara Health, call (800) 728-0901. 

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