Chronic Kidney Disease: Common Symptoms, Causes & Tests

Chronic Kidney Disease or CKD is a silent and insidious disease affecting an astounding 700 million people worldwide. In the United States alone, there exist over 30 million cases of Chronic Kidney Disease. On average, one in three adults is at risk of developing the condition, a concerning matter for public health. To make matters even more complex, over 90% of the affected individuals do not notice their symptoms until the disease approaches its final stages.

We discuss its causes, common symptoms like kidney disease itching, weight loss, and hair loss caused by kidney disease, followed by tests and treatment.

What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic Kidney Disease is a result of prolonged destruction of the kidneys. The condition develops due to slow, progressive damage to the nephron, the small filtration unit in the kidney. A single kidney can contain up to a million nephrons, the most fundamental units of blood filtration. Chronic Kidney Disease causes irreparable damage to these tiny blood filters, hampering kidney function.

Your kidneys perform a slew of essential bodily functions like: 

  • Filtration of blood and the removal of toxins, wastes, and excess fluids. 
  • Maintaining a steady level of essential electrolytes like sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate. 
  • Excretion of any ingested medicines or drugs.
  • Regulation of the heart rate by secreting specific hormones. 
  • Promoting the production of new red blood cells in the bone marrow. 
  • Maintenance of the delicate acid-base balance in the body and regulating a steady pH. 
  • Regulation of body temperature.

Chronic Kidney Disease can impair the kidneys' ability to carry out these functions effectively or even cause the kidneys to fail in end-stage kidney disease.

Genetics and Chronic Kidney Disease

The Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease is often a long-term complication of other serious conditions. Some conditions that can result in persistent damage to the kidneys are:

  • Hypertension & Chronic Kidney Disease

In the tiny nephrons within the kidney, there exist minute blood vessels that ensure effective filtration of your blood to the last drop. In conditions like hypertension, elevated blood pressure damages these blood vessels. These damaged blood vessels are incapable of sustaining effective filtration. The condition causes a build-up of excess fluid and some minerals, which in turn raises the blood pressure further. This is a vicious cycle where hypertension and kidney damage facilitate the progression of one another. 

  • Diabetes & Chronic Kidney Disease

Both Type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes can result in Chronic Kidney Disease. One of the serious long-term complications of the disease is a condition called diabetic nephropathy. Diabetic nephropathy is a sign of persistent damage to the filtration units in your kidney by sugar. The elevated sugar levels in your blood can impair the process of blood filtration. Prolonged diabetic nephropathy can result in Chronic Kidney Disease, or in this case, diabetic kidney disease. 

  • Autoimmune Diseases 

Diseases such as Lupus are caused by the body's immune system attacking some of its cells and tissues. The condition usually affects blood vessels and tissue fibers under the skin; however, Lupus can affect any part of the body, including the kidneys. When Lupus affects the kidney tissue, doctors call it Lupus Nephritis. It causes a severe inflammation of the blood vessels and tubes in the nephrons, hampering the kidneys' ability to function properly.

  • Kidney Scarring

Kidney scarring is the hardening of the nephron. Referred to as glomerulosclerosis in medicine, the condition renders the nephron unable to function. Certain conditions cause large parts of the kidney's nephrons to harden or "scar", causing most of the kidney to fail.

  • Genetics & Chronic Kidney Disease

If you've had questions like "Is kidney disease genetic?", you're not alone. Certain causes of kidney disease have important genetic and hereditary components. Conditions like polycystic kidney disease are caused by genetic mutations. The disease results in the aggressive growth of several cysts throughout both kidneys, reducing the amount of viable kidney tissue. This hampers kidney function and can have serious implications for normal subsistence. Autoimmune diseases like Lupus and Alport's syndrome also have underlying genetic components, while causing damage to the kidneys.

  • Inflammatory Diseases

Inflammatory kidney diseases like glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis can cause Chronic Kidney Disease. While the former is due to the inflammation of the tiny filtration units called nephrons, the latter is characterized by the inflammation of the tiny tubes within the kidney. A variety of factors like severe allergies, toxins, chronic drug abuse, infections, heavy metal poisoning, and autoimmune diseases can result in inflammatory diseases of the kidney, and consequently- Chronic Kidney Disease. 

  • Obstruction of Urinary Tract

Prolonged blockage of the urinary tract or tubes can result in damage to the kidney tissue. If you have had prolonged issues with kidney stones or an enlarged prostate, the chances of developing CKD rise. Conditions like cancers of the kidneys can also cause Chronic Kidney Disease due to their obstructive nature.

  • Stress & Kidney Disease

Several studies have shown that stress can be an indirect promoter of Chronic Kidney Disease. Prolonged stress levels can cause bodily inflammation, raise blood pressure and elevate blood sugar levels which can be quite damaging to your kidneys. If you've ever wondered if stress can stress cause kidney stones, you just might be correct. Stress can also result in dehydration, an important factor of rising kidney stone prevalence in several individuals. Obstructive kidney diseases like kidney stones increase your probability of developing Chronic Kidney Disease.

The risk of contracting CKD is elevated in the elderly, and in addition to these causes of the disease, risk factors like smoking, obesity, elevated cholesterol, and liver cirrhosis can also result in a higher chance of CKD.

Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

There are a variety of symptoms that indicate Chronic Kidney Disease. However, many of these symptoms can seem harmless and benign in the initial stages, causing many people to ignore them. A major cause for concern among people suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease is the number of people realizing they have CKD when it's already too late. Here are some common symptoms of CKD to help you in being vigilant -

  • Kidney Disease & Itching

Kidney disease itching or kidney itching as it is referred to colloquially is an important symptom of advanced CKD. The build-up of toxins, excess fluid, wastes, and excess electrolytes could be a potential cause for the itching. Itches are frequent and are accompanied by a persistent desire to scratch. Frequent bouts of itches can be aggravated by allergies, irritants, uncomfortable clothing, and pollution.

  • Swelling of The Face, Eyelids, and Legs

A puffy face and eyelids can be some important factors to indicate CKD. Swollen legs are also an important symptom of CKD. Damaged kidneys fail to remove excess fluid from the body, causing the fluid to build up in convenient regions. The fluid moves to the legs due to gravity and is easily spotted in the face and eyes due to the thin skin present there.

  • Frequent Fatigue & Chronic Exhaustion

Several CKD sufferers initially come in with a complaint of tiredness and fatigue. Most people suffering from CKD are also anemic. This is because a healthy kidney produces an important hormone called erythropoietin. The hormone stimulates the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells. In unhealthy or failing kidneys, like in CKD, the kidneys either produce too little erythropoietin or produce some of it infrequently, resulting in a lack of new red blood cells. Fewer red blood cells cause less oxygen to reach your body at a given time.

  • Kidney Disease & Weight Loss

The build-up of toxins and wastes can cause symptoms like an upset stomach or persistent nausea. These symptoms adversely affect your appetite. A lot of CKD patients also complain of a metallic taste in their mouth, another cause for loss of appetite. This indirectly causes weight loss in patients suffering from CKD.

kidney disease and weight loss

  • Kidney Disease & Hair Loss

Hair is made of protein and an adequate intake of good dietary protein is essential for healthy hair. In patients with Chronic Kidney Disease, a reduced appetite, the build-up of toxins, mineral & vitamin deficiencies can result in thinning, brittle and falling hair. Hair loss is also an important symptom of severe CKD.

  • Brittle Nails & Ashen Skin

Like hair, the skin and nails require adequate nutrition to remain healthy as well. Yellow, brittle and pitted nails, alongside a pale, ashen discoloration of your skin can be important indicators of CKD.

  • Backache

Pain in the region of the kidneys can be an important indicator of obstructive kidney disease. A lot of patients complain of kidney pain in the morning, this is due to the build-up of urine overnight and the inability of the tubes to pump the urine into the bladder. It's important to inform your healthcare provider in case you notice the symptom as it could indicate diseases like kidney stones, polycystic kidney, or CKD.

  • Bone Pain & Weak Bones

The kidneys are important regulators of blood calcium levels. Impaired kidney function can result in lower blood calcium. This causes the bones to release calcium into the blood to enable muscle functioning. A persistent release of calcium from the bones reduces bone density and can result in weak bones.

  • Frequent Urination & Discolored Urine

Patients with CKD often complain of frequent, pale urine. Urine can also be foamy due to the presence of protein in the urine or be discolored due to blood in the urine.

  • Bad Breath

The poor excretion of ammonia in urine can cause symptoms like bad breath. CKD can result in your breath smelling like urine due to failing kidneys.

  • Impaired Focus & Concentration

A lack of oxygen due to anemia can hamper the ability of the brain to function. This causes difficulty in thinking coherently and results in confusion. 

  • Chest Pain & Shortness of Breath

A build-up of excess fluid in the wall of the heart or the lungs can cause shortness of breath and chest pain. This is a serious symptom of CKD and you should consider visiting your healthcare provider at the earliest in case you're facing either of these symptoms. 

It is important not to ignore any of the symptoms you might encounter. With CKD, most patients get diagnosed only when it's too late. Be sure to visit your doctor if you notice any symptoms and are in doubt. 

can stress cause kidney stones

What are Kidney Diagnostic Tests?

A variety of tests exist to diagnose CKD, and if you're wondering how to check kidney function at home, test packages like this one help you check your kidney function at the comfort of your house. Some common kidney function tests are:

  • Blood Tests: Tests like blood urea nitrogen test, serum creatinine, a 24-hour glomerular filtration rate test, complete blood count, and basic metabolic panel help your doctor tell if your kidneys are functioning normally.
  • Urine Tests: Tests like albumin to creatinine ratio, urine albumin, and urine glucose tests can help your doctor tell if anything is amiss with your kidney function by examining urine.
  • Imaging Tests: Ultrasound of the kidneys, abdominal CT scans, and MRIs can be ordered by your physician in case they suspect any obstructions or growths in your kidney. 
  • Biopsies: In case your kidney has growths or cysts that have been detected on the imaging tests, your doctor might recommend a biopsy. The procedure involves removing a part of the growth to be examined in a laboratory.

Though Chronic Kidney Disease is irreversible, it is manageable through a nutritious diet, managing the causative disease, necessary lifestyle changes, and abiding by the doctor's advice on time. Be sure to visit your healthcare provider regularly in case you have concerns regarding your health.