Diseases and Disorders

Kidney Failure Symptoms

Last updated on January 21st, 2023 at 12:11 pm

What are the kidney failure symptoms? Are there any signs you should know if you suspect your kidneys may not be functioning properly? Read on to find out more!

What is kidney failure?

Your kidneys are a pair of organs located toward your lower back. One kidney is on each side of your spine. They filter your blood and remove toxins from your body. Kidneys send toxins to your bladder, which your body later removes, toxins during urination.

Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys lose the ability to sufficiently filter waste from your blood. Many factors can interfere with your kidney health and function, such as

  • toxic exposure to environmental pollutants or certain medications
  • certain acute and chronic diseases,
  • severe dehydration
  • kidney trauma

Your body becomes overloaded with toxins if your kidneys can’t do their regular job. This can lead to kidney failure, which can be life threatening if left untreated.

Kidney failure symptoms

Usually, someone with kidney failure will have a few symptoms of the disease. Sometimes, no symptoms are present. Kidney failure symptoms are;

  • a reduced amount of urine
  • swelling of your legs, ankles, and feet from retention of fluids caused by the failure of the kidneys to eliminate water waste
  • unexplained shortness of breath,
  • excessive drowsiness or fatigue
  • persistent nausea
  • feel confused, have trouble focusing, or have memory problems
  • pain or pressure in your chest
  • seizures
  • coma
  • get headaches
  • feel itchy
  • feel tired during the day and have sleep problems at night
  • feel sick to your stomach, lose your sense of taste, not feel hungry, or lose weight
  • have muscle cramps, weakness, or numbness,
  • have pain, stiffness, or fluid in your joints

Following your treatment plan can help you avoid or address most of these symptoms. Your treatment plan may include regular dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant, a special eating plan, physical activity, and medicines.

Types of kidney failure

There are 5 different kidney failure;

Acute prerenal kidney failure

Insufficient blood flow to the kidneys can cause acute prerenal kidney failure. The kidneys can’t filter toxins from the blood without enough blood flow. This type of kidney failure can usually be cured once your doctor determines the cause of the decreased blood flow.

Acute intrinsic kidney failure

Acute intrinsic kidney failure can result from direct trauma to the kidneys, such as physical impact or an accident. Causes also include toxin overload and ischemia, which is a lack of oxygen to the kidneys.

The following may cause ischemia:

  • severe bleeding
  • shock
  • renal blood vessel obstruction
  • glomerulonephritis

Chronic prerenal kidney failure

When there isn’t enough blood flowing to the kidneys for an extended period, the kidneys shrink and lose the ability to function.

Chronic intrinsic kidney failure

This happens when there’s long-term damage to the kidneys because of intrinsic kidney disease. Intrinsic kidney disease develops from direct trauma to the kidneys, such as severe bleeding or a lack of oxygen.

Chronic post-renal kidney failure

A long-term blockage of the urinary tract prevents urination. This causes pressure and eventual kidney damage.

Early signs of kidney failure

Symptoms of early stage kidney disease may be difficult to pinpoint. They’re often subtle and hard to identify. If you experience early signs of kidney disease, they may include:

  • decreased urine output,
  • fluid retention that leads to swelling in limbs
  • shortness of breath

Please consult your doctor and get diagnosed early with kidney failure tests if you notice any early stage kidney disease.

Causes of kidney failure

Kidney failure can result from several conditions or causes. The cause typically also determines the type of kidney failure.

People who are most at risk usually have one or more of the following causes:

Loss of blood flow to the kidneys

A sudden loss of blood flow to your kidneys can prompt kidney failure. Some conditions that cause loss of blood flow to the kidneys include:

Urine elimination problems

When your body can’t eliminate urine, toxins build up and overload the kidneys. Some cancers can block the urine passageways, such as.

  • prostate (a most common type in men)
  • colon
  • cervical
  • bladder

Other conditions can interfere with urination and possibly lead to kidney failure, including:

  • kidney stones,
  • an enlarged prostate
  • blood clots within your urinary tract,
  • damage to your nerves that control your bladder

Other causes of kidney failure

Some other causes that may lead to kidney failure include;

  • a blood clot in or around your kidneys
  • infection
  • an overload of toxins from heavy metals,
  • drugs and alcohol
  • vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels
  • lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation of many body organs
  • glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the small blood vessels of the kidneys
  • haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which involves the breakdown of red blood cells following a bacterial infection, usually of the intestines,
  • multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in your bone marrow
  • scleroderma, an autoimmune condition that affects your skin
  • thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a disorder that causes blood clots in small vessels
  • chemotherapy drugs that treat cancer and some autoimmune diseases
  • dyes used in some imaging tests
  • certain antibiotics
  • uncontrolled diabetes

Test for Kidney failure

There are several tests your doctor can use to diagnose kidney failure.


Your doctor may advise for a urine routine test for any abnormalities, including abnormal protein or sugar that spills into the urine.

They may also perform a urinary sediment examination. This test measures the amount of red and white blood cells that look for high levels of bacteria and searches for high numbers of tube-shaped particles called cellular casts.

Urine volume test

Measuring urine output is one of the simplest tests to help diagnose kidney failure. For example, the low urinary output may suggest that kidney disease is because a urinary blockage, which multiple illnesses or injuries can cause.

Blood samples

Your doctor may advise blood tests to measure substances that are filtered by your kidneys, such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (Creat). A rapid rise in these levels may show acute kidney failure.


Tests like ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans provide images of the kidneys themselves as well as the urinary tract. This allows your doctor to look for blockages or abnormalities in your kidneys. Many times doctor avoid this test because of the use of contrast dye, which can further damage the kidney functions.  

Kidney failure urine colour

The colour of your urine is a small window into your body’s health. It doesn’t tell you much about the state of your kidney function until damage to the kidneys has progressed.

Still, changes to urine colour may alert you of some issues.

  • Clear or pale yellow. This colour shows you’re well hydrated. This is the ideal colour in most cases.
  • Dark yellow or amber. You may be dehydrated. Try drinking more water and cutting down on dark sodas, tea, or coffee.
  • Orange. This could be a sign of dehydration, or it might be a sign of bile in your bloodstream. Kidney disease rarely causes this.
  • Pink or red. Urine with a pink tint orbit of red could have blood in it. It could also be caused by certain foods, like beets or strawberries. A quick urine test can tell the difference.
  • Foamy. Urine with excess bubbles is a sign that it likely has a lot of protein in it. Protein in urine is a sign of kidney disease.

Diabetes and kidney failure

Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can damage kidneys. The damage can become worse.

Diabetic nephropathy, or kidney damage caused by type 1 or type 2 diabetes, can’t be reversed. Managing blood sugar and blood pressure can help reduce damage.

Taking medicines prescribed by your doctor is important, too.

If you have diabetes, your doctor will probably perform regular screenings to monitor for kidney failure.

Your risk for diabetic nephropathy increases the longer you live with the condition.

Kidney failure and alcohol

If you have kidney failure and drink alcohol, your kidneys will be forced to work harder than they already are.

Alcohol doesn’t metabolize out of your system, so you’ll feel its effects until you receive dialysis to filter it out of your blood.

Beer and wine contain large amounts of phosphorous. It can cause severe heart issues and even death if your kidneys cannot filter it out. However, most hard liquor doesn’t carry the same risk.

If you have kidney failure or late-stage kidney disease, your doctor may recommend you limit how often you drink alcohol. For some people, eliminating alcohol from the diet may be the best.

Drinking alcohol with kidney failure can hurt the normal function of other organs. Over time, long-term, heavy alcohol use can lead to liver disease.

Alcohol use may cause additional symptoms, such as pain.

How to prevent kidney failure?

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk for kidney failure.

Follow directions when taking over-the-counter medications. Taking doses that are too high (even of common drugs like aspirin) can create high toxin levels in a short amount of time. This can overload your kidneys.

Many kidneys or urinary tract conditions lead to kidney failure when they’re not properly managed. You can help reduce your risk for kidney failure by;

  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • following your doctor’s advice
  • taking prescribed medicine as directed
  • treating common causes of kidney failure, such as high blood pressure and diabetes

If you have any concerns about your kidneys, do the regular check our kidney function test and urine routine test. Reach out to your doctor if those tests show any abnormal results. Read and follow our Kidney Care Tips, Read More.

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Reference: healthline, NIDDK

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