Your kidneys are one of the smallest organs in your body, but they have one of the biggest jobs—they filter out all of the toxins you encounter every day.
In fact, your kidneys must filter 20-150 quarts of blood just to produce 1 to 2 quarts of urine, which is composed of wastes and extra fluids (1).
Each of your kidneys has close to one million tiny filters known as nephrons.
Typically, you are born with two kidneys. These small bean-shaped organs sit right under your rib cage, one on each side of your spine.
While you can live with only one kidney, it can be very taxing on your body and eventually, you may require dialysis if the kidney becomes overwhelmed.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 adults in the US -more than 20 million people- have some level of chronic kidney disease (CKD) (2). And these numbers are only rising as more and more people develop chronic symptoms associated with kidney problems.
One of the reasons CKD is on the rise, according to experts, is that often people with serious kidney issues may not show any symptoms until the disease has progressed to the point they need hospitalization.
What Causes CKD?
Most often, CKD occurs when a disease or condition weakens your kidneys, causing damage that worsens over several months or even years.
Several conditions can cause CKD, the most common include (3):
Diabetes: Type 1 or type 2
High blood pressure
Glomerulonephritis: Inflammation of the glomeruli (the tiny filters in your kidneys)
Interstitial nephritis: Inflammation of the tubules and surrounding structures within the kidneys
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)
Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract caused by such things as an enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers
Vesicoureteral reflux: A condition that causes urine to back up into your kidneys
Recurrent kidney infections: Also known as pyelonephritis
Any symptoms of kidney distress should be taking seriously, and at the first sign you should head to your doctor.
He or she may choose to do either a blood or a urine test immediately to check for any kidney problems.
In the interim, here are 10 telltale signs your kidneys are in trouble according to the National Kidney Center (NKC) (4).
Symptoms of Kidney Problems
1. Changes in your Urine
This is one of the first signs your kidneys are in trouble. So If you notice any of the following changes, speak to your doctor:
Pressure during urinating
Foam in your urine
Dark urine followed by less frequent urinating and/or urinating in small amounts
Pale urine and more frequent urination in larger amounts
Need to urinate many times during the night (although this can be a sign of other issues as well)
2. Excessive Swelling
Because your kidneys are responsible for filtering any fluid in your body, if this fluid starts to back up, you will notice swelling, typically in your hands and feet as these small organs struggle to eliminate any excess fluid.
In addition, protein in your urine is also a clear sign your kidneys are in trouble and the tiny filters are not working properly.
When this happens, the filters allow protein to seep through into your urine. People with kidney issues will often notice they have a telltale puffiness around their eyes, which is caused by large amounts of protein in their urine. You may also notice swelling in your joints.
3. Shortness of Breath
While you may not automatically see shortness of breath as a symptom of kidney problems, this is actually a very common sign.
When your kidneys are taxed, fluid can build-up in the lungs, making it harder to take a deep breath.
Less oxygen in your blood makes it harder for your body to function, causing you to become out of breath quicker.
4. Skin Rashes
Any time your body is overwhelmed with toxins, it looks for any way to get rid of these poisons and waste products.
One such way is through the pores in your skin. This can result in rashes, dry, irritated skin or even open sores.
While skin creams and ointments can help ease the symptoms, they do not help with your kidneys, so it is important to address the underlying issue.
5. Metallic Taste in the Mouth
Sometimes, your body can become so overloaded with toxins that you can literally taste them.
People with kidneys that are not working at optimal capacity, can often experience a metallic taste in their mouths.
Any unfiltered waste buildup can linger in your blood where it can alter the taste of food.
This buildup of toxins can further lead to halitosis (bad breath) and a lack of appetite.
6. Poor Concentration and Dizziness
As your kidneys become overwhelmed with toxins, they begin to fail, which can lead to inefficient oxygen flow to the rest of your body, including your brain.
This leads to such things as poor memory, concentration, and dizziness, and even light-headedness— brain fog.
7. Pain in Your Lower Back
Lower back pain is often associated with kidney damage, failure or infections since these organs sit in your lower back area. This pain can be a result of kidney stones or even a urinary tract infection.
You may also experience pain in your legs or sides.
In healthy people, your kidneys produce a hormone known as EPO (erythropoietin), which essentially increases the number of red blood cells in your blood. These red blood cells carry valuable oxygen to every part of your body.
A general lack of oxygen, not surprisingly, can lead to fatigue, including your muscles and every other working part of your body.
Chronic fatigue may also be a symptom of anemia, so it is imperative you speak with your health professional if you have long-term, unexplainable exhaustion.
9. Nausea and Vomiting
As toxins and wastes begin to buildup in your blood, it can cause severe nausea and vomiting.
This can also be a sign of a urinary tract infection, so make sure you speak to your doctor right away, especially if you are experiencing any pain in your lower back or abdomen too (5).
When you kidneys are functioning properly, they produce erythropoietin, a hormone that triggers your body to make red blood cells.
As such, any issues that affect the healthy function of your kidneys can ultimately interfere with this process resulting in a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
When this happens, you can often develop anemia, a symptom of which includes constantly feeling cold (6).
How to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy
To avoid symptoms of kidney problems there are several things you should do according to National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH) (7).
1. Keep your blood glucose in check, especially if you have diabetes.
2. Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
3. Eat healthy meals—If you are already displaying symptoms of kidney problems, avoid a diet high in protein, fat, sodium, and potassium.
4. Have yearly tests to ensure your kidneys are functioning properly
5. Avoid painkillers unless necessary as they can damage your kidneys. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen are especially bad.
6. Contact your doctor immediately if you think you have a bladder or kidney infection.
7. Don’t smoke.