Kidney Failure - Symptoms

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The symptoms of kidney failure can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?

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What are the symptoms of kidney failure?

  • In the beginning, kidney failure may be asymptomatic (not producing any symptoms). As kidney function decreases, the symptoms are related to the inability to regulate water and electrolyte balances, to clear waste products from the body, and to promote red blood cell production. Lethargy, weakness, shortness of breath, and generalized swelling may occur. Unrecognized or untreated, life-threatening circumstances can develop.

  • Metabolic acidosis, or increased acidity of the body due to the inability to manufacture bicarbonate, will alter enzyme and oxygen metabolism, causing organ failure.

  • Inability to excrete potassium and rising potassium levels in the serum (hyperkalemia) is associated with fatal heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias) including ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation.

  • Rising urea levels in the blood (uremia) can affect the function of a variety of organs ranging from the brain (encephalopathy) with alteration of thinking, to inflammation of the heart lining (pericarditis), to decreased muscle function because of low calcium levels (hypocalcemia).

  • Generalized weakness may be due to anemia, a decreased red blood cell count, because lower levels of erythropoietin produced by failing kidneys do not adequately stimulate the bone marrow. A decrease in red cells equals a decrease in oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, resulting in decreased oxygen delivery to cells for them to do work; therefore, the body tires quickly. As well, with less oxygen, cells more readily use anaerobic metabolism (an=without + aerobic=oxygen) leading to increased amounts of acid production that cannot be addressed by the already failing kidneys.

  • As waste products build in the blood, loss of appetite, lethargy, and fatigue become apparent. This will progress to the point where mental function will decrease and coma may occur.

  • Because the kidneys cannot address the rising acid load in the body, breathing becomes more rapid as the lungs try to buffer the acidity by blowing off carbon dioxide. Blood pressure may rise because of the excess fluid, and this fluid can be deposited in the lungs, causing congestive heart failure.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: kathym., 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: November 21

I am in Stage 3. Stages 1 and 2 didn't cause any symptoms that I recognized. I have other problems, too, such as early stage of RA (rheumatoid arthritis), and herniated discs in my lower back, which might have hidden them. I found out because I had high blood pressure and kidney stones and they found it during a routine blood test. I have extreme thirst, keep a 32 oz. large drinking cup of water by the bed and water with me at all times. I am especially thirsty when I walk for a long time. I have had top of my feet swollen but I also have tenosynovitis and don't know if CKD (chronic kidney disease) caused it. I have been more tired lately.

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Comment from: Tammy, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: January 10

My kidneys are functioning at 15%. They have stabilized and I am hoping they do not get worse. My symptoms in hindsight was being cold all the time and extremely fatigued. I had gastric bypass in 2010 and that is what caused my kidney failure. Hard to explain the exact reasons, but this was diagnosed by my nephrologist. Something to do with the small intestine not releasing the poison from my body. And this caused my kidneys to not be able to filter appropriately. This is a very rare occurrence after gastric bypass. I would probably do it again! But would hope my kidneys would not fail! I had my bypass converted to the "sleeve" weight loss surgery. And, I have received iron infusions for my anemia. I feel really good and energetic now!

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