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Sure Signs You Have Kidney Damage

Learn how to spot the signs of kidney damage and why it's vital to keep your kidneys healthy. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Kidney health is often overlooked, but it's vital to your overall well-being because properly functioning kidneys help filter out toxins and restore vitamins to your bloodstream. Unfortunately, kidney damage is common and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37 million people are living with kidney disease and if left untreated can lead to serious health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and early death. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience who shares signs of kidney damage to watch out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why Kidney Damage is Dangerous

At doctors appointment physician shows to patient shape of kidney with focus on hand with organ. Scene explaining patient causes and localization of diseases of kidney, stones, adrenal, urinary system - Image

Marchese tells us, "The kidneys help filter out toxins and waste from the blood. When your kidneys are damaged, high levels of dangerous byproducts can poison the blood and begin to affect many other sensitive organs. Kidney failure can develop rapidly and become fatal without immediate and intensive care."


What Causes Kidney Damage?

Man with kidney problem

Marchese says, "Kidney failure can occur after traumatic physical injury to the lower back or if another medical condition blocks the flow to your kidneys. If a blockage in your ureters prevents urination, this can also cause a dangerous build-up in the kidneys. Blood clots and immune infections, such as lupus, are common causes of kidney damage."

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Chronic kidney disease occurs when a disease or condition impairs kidney function, causing kidney damage to worsen over several months or years. Diseases and conditions that cause chronic kidney disease include:

  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Glomerulonephritis (gloe-mer-u-low-nuh-FRY-tis), an inflammation of the kidney's filtering units (glomeruli)
  • Interstitial nephritis (in-tur-STISH-ul nuh-FRY-tis), an inflammation of the kidney's tubules and surrounding structures
  • Polycystic kidney disease or other inherited kidney diseases
  • Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract, from conditions such as enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers
  • Vesicoureteral (ves-ih-koe-yoo-REE-tur-ul) reflux, a condition that causes urine to back up into your kidneys
  • Recurrent kidney infection, also called pyelonephritis (pie-uh-low-nuh-FRY-tis)"

How to Help Prevent Kidney Damage

Woman with pain in kidneys at home on couch

According to Marchese, "You can reduce your risk of kidney damage by avoiding high levels of over-the-counter medications that damage the kidneys, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and other pain medications. You should also undergo regular diabetes and blood pressure screenings with your primary care doctor and maintain a healthy lifestyle."


​​Decreased Need to Urinate or Difficulty Urinating

man prostate cancer, premature, ejaculation, fertility, bladder problem

"This sign could indicate a blockage somewhere in the urinary tract," Marchese says. "If left untreated, urinary waste can back up and create high levels of toxins within the kidneys. Kidney stones, blood clots and an enlarged prostate are common signs of urinary difficulty."


Fluid Retention in the Extremities

An elderly man has pain in his fingers and hands

Marchese explains, "Because the kidneys help filter out toxins from the blood for waste, a regular sign of kidney damage is retaining fluid. The most common sites of fluid retention are in the legs, known as edema. You may also notice fluid retention in the fingers, hands or abdomen. If you notice pressure marks that take time to disappear, you should talk to your doctor about potential signs of kidney damage."


Chest Pain, Shortness of Breath or an Irregular Heartbeat

Businesswoman feeling chest pain while working in the office.

Marchese says, "Kidney damage can cause issues in the cardiac and respiratory systems when the kidneys cannot regulate blood pressure. High blood pressure can make breathing difficult or cause the heart to work harder, leading to palpitations or an irregular heart rhythm." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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