Kidney Disease Symptoms

When you know the symptoms of chronic kidney disease (CKD), you can get treatment and feel your best. CKD symptoms can be subtle. Some people don’t have any symptoms — or don’t think they do. If you have one or more of the 15 symptoms below, or worry about kidney problems, see a doctor for blood and urine tests. Many of the symptoms on this list can be caused by other health problems. The only way to know the cause of YOUR symptoms is to see your doctor.

NOTE: Low back pain is not a sign of kidney disease. Your kidneys are above your waist in the back of your body. If you have pain there, tell your doctor.

Fill out the [symptom chart][symptom-chart] at the end of this section and print it to share with your health care team.

15 Symptoms of Kidney Disease

  1. 1. Fatigue – being tired all of the time

    Why this happens:

    Healthy kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin (a-rith'- ro-po'- uh-tin), or EPO, that tells your body to make oxygen-carrying red blood cells. As the kidneys fail, they make less EPO. With fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen, your muscles and brain tire very quickly. This is anemia, and it can be treated.

    What patients said:

    I was constantly exhausted and didn't have any pep or anything.
    I would sleep a lot. I'd come home from work and get right in that bed.
  2. 2. Feeling cold – when others are warm

    Why this happens:

    Anemia can make you feel cold all the time, even in a warm room.

    What patients said:

    I notice sometimes I get really cold, I get chills.
    Sometimes I get really, really cold. It could be hot, and I'd be cold.
  3. 3. Shortness of breath – after very little effort

    Why this happens:

    Being short of breath can be related to the kidneys in two ways. First, extra fluid in the body can build up in the lungs. And second, anemia (a shortage of oxygen-carrying red blood cells) can leave your body oxygen-starved and short of breath.

    What patients said:

    At the times when I get the shortness of breath, it's alarming to me. It just fears me. I think maybe I might fall or something so I usually go sit down for awhile.
    I couldn't sleep at night. I couldn't catch my breath, like I was drowning or something. And, the bloating, can't breathe, can't walk anywhere. It was bad.
  4. 4. Feeling faint, dizzy, or weak

    Why this happens:

    Anemia related to kidney failure means that your brain is not getting enough oxygen. This can lead to memory problems, trouble with concentration, and dizziness.

    What patients said:

    I know I mentioned to my wife that my memory—I couldn't remember what I did last week, or maybe what I had 2 days ago. I couldn't really concentrate, because I like to work crossword puzzles and read a lot.
    I was always tired and dizzy.
  5. 5. Trouble thinking clearly

    Why this happens:

    Anemia related to kidney failure means that your brain is not getting enough oxygen. This can lead to memory problems, trouble with concentration, and dizziness.

    What patients said:

    I know I mentioned to my wife that my memory—I couldn't remember what I did last week, or maybe what I had 2 days ago. I couldn't really concentrate, because I like to work crossword puzzles and read a lot.
    I was always tired and dizzy.
  6. 6. Feeling very itchy

    Why this happens:

    Kidneys remove wastes from the bloodstream. When the kidneys fail, the build-up of wastes in your blood can cause severe itching.

    What patients said:

    It's not really a skin itch or anything, it's just right down to the bone. I had to get a brush and dig. My back was just bloody from scratching it so much.
    My skin had broke out, I was itching and scratching a lot.
  7. 7. Swelling in hands or feet

    Why this happens:

    Failing kidneys don't remove extra fluid, which builds up in your body causing swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face, and/or hands.

    What patients said:

    I remember a lot of swelling in my ankles. My ankles were so big I couldn't get my shoes on.
    My sister, her hair started to fall out, she was losing weight, but her face was really puffy, you know, and everything like that, before she found out what was going on with her.
  8. 8. Swollen or puffy face

    Why this happens:

    Failing kidneys don't remove extra fluid, which builds up in your body causing swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face, and/or hands.

    What patients said:

    I remember a lot of swelling in my ankles. My ankles were so big I couldn't get my shoes on.
    My sister, her hair started to fall out, she was losing weight, but her face was really puffy, you know, and everything like that, before she found out what was going on with her.
  9. 9. Food tastes like metal

    Why this happens:

    A build-up of wastes in the blood (called uremia) can make food taste different and cause bad breath. You may also notice that you stop liking to eat meat, or that you are losing weight because you just don't feel like eating.

    What patients said:

    Foul taste in your mouth. Almost like you're drinking iron.
    You don't have the appetite you used to have.
  10. 10. Ammonia breath

    Why this happens:

    A build-up of wastes in the blood (called uremia) can make food taste different and cause bad breath. You may also notice that you stop liking to eat meat, or that you are losing weight because you just don't feel like eating.

    What patients said:

    Foul taste in your mouth. Almost like you're drinking iron.
    You don't have the appetite you used to have.
  11. 11. Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting

    Why this happens:

    A severe build-up of wastes in the blood (uremia) can also cause nausea and vomiting. Loss of appetite can lead to weight loss.

    What patients said:

    I had a lot of itching, and I was nauseated, throwing up all the time. I couldn't keep anything down in my stomach.
    When I got the nausea, I couldn't eat and I had a hard time taking my blood pressure pills.
  12. 12. Getting up during the night to make urine

    Why this happens:

    Kidneys make urine, so when the kidneys are failing, the urine may change. How?

    • You may urinate more often, or in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine.
    • Urine may be foamy or bubbly.
    • You may urinate less often, or in smaller amounts than usual, with dark-colored urine.
    • Your urine may contain blood.
    • You may feel pressure or have difficulty urinating.

    What patients said:

    When you go to use the restroom, you couldn't get it all out. And it would still feel just like tightness down there, there was so much pressure.
    My urine is what I had started noticing. Then I was frequently going to the bathroom, and when I got there, nothing's happening. You think, 'Hey, I've got to go to the john,' and you get there: 2, 3 drops.
  13. 13. Foamy or bubbly urine

    Why this happens:

    Kidneys make urine, so when the kidneys are failing, the urine may change. How?

    • You may urinate more often, or in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine.
    • Urine may be foamy or bubbly.
    • You may urinate less often, or in smaller amounts than usual, with dark-colored urine.
    • Your urine may contain blood.
    • You may feel pressure or have difficulty urinating.

    What patients said:

    When you go to use the restroom, you couldn't get it all out. And it would still feel just like tightness down there, there was so much pressure.
    My urine is what I had started noticing. Then I was frequently going to the bathroom, and when I got there, nothing's happening. You think, 'Hey, I've got to go to the john,' and you get there: 2, 3 drops.
  14. 14. Brown, red, or purple urine

    Why this happens:

    Kidneys make urine, so when the kidneys are failing, the urine may change. How?

    • You may urinate more often, or in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine.
    • Urine may be foamy or bubbly.
    • You may urinate less often, or in smaller amounts than usual, with dark-colored urine.
    • Your urine may contain blood.
    • You may feel pressure or have difficulty urinating.

    What patients said:

    When you go to use the restroom, you couldn't get it all out. And it would still feel just like tightness down there, there was so much pressure.
    My urine is what I had started noticing. Then I was frequently going to the bathroom, and when I got there, nothing's happening. You think, 'Hey, I've got to go to the john,' and you get there: 2, 3 drops.
  15. 15. Pressure when you make urine

    Why this happens:

    Kidneys make urine, so when the kidneys are failing, the urine may change. How?

    • You may urinate more often, or in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine.
    • Urine may be foamy or bubbly.
    • You may urinate less often, or in smaller amounts than usual, with dark-colored urine.
    • Your urine may contain blood.
    • You may feel pressure or have difficulty urinating.

    What patients said:

    When you go to use the restroom, you couldn't get it all out. And it would still feel just like tightness down there, there was so much pressure.
    My urine is what I had started noticing. Then I was frequently going to the bathroom, and when I got there, nothing's happening. You think, 'Hey, I've got to go to the john,' and you get there: 2, 3 drops.

Kidney Disease Symptom Chart

Check the symptoms you have and then print the chart to share with your doctor.

  • I feel tired all the time

  • I feel cold even when others around me are warm

  • I feel short of breath after very little effort

  • I feel faint, dizzy, or weak

  • I can’t think clearly

  • I feel very itchy

  • My hands or feet are swollen

  • My face is swollen or puffy

  • Food tastes like metal and I don’t want to eat

  • People tell me my breath smells like ammonia

  • I feel sick to my stomach a lot

  • I have to get up at night to make urine

  • My urine is foamy or bubbly

  • My urine is brown, red, or purple

  • I feel pressure when I need to make urine

Next Section:
How to Have a Good Life

Welcome to the brand-new LifeOptions.org!

If you can’t find something that you are looking for, please contact us at info@lifeoptions.org.