First Signs of Kidney Failure

When we’re talking about kidney failure, there are two possible scenarios; it may occur suddenly (acute) or it may develop gradually over time (chronic). Kidney plays a key role to help filter blood and keep it clean. When it fails to work, there will be some serious complications. Are there any first signs?

How do your kidneys work?

Kidneys are important in the body function. The main function is to filter blood and get rid of waste products from bloodstream. They also have a role to help keep the balance of electrolyte levels and control the blood pressure.

Moreover, they are important in producing some essential hormones in the body, these include:

  1. Renin, hormone that is responsible to help control your blood pressure.
  2. A kind of vitamin D called Calcitriol, hormone to help absorb your dietary calcium through intestines.
  3. And EPO (erythropoietin), which is essential to tell bone marrow when to make more red blood cells.

An adrenal gland (small gland) is above each kidney. Adrenal is derived from the word ‘ad’ and ‘renal’, which means next to kidney. These glands are also so vital in making some essential hormones.

Kidneys are located close to the middle of the back (see the following picture). They are part of urinary system.


The blood vessels that carry blood to the kidneys are called renal arteries. As blood flow through your kidneys, unnecessary things (such as waste products) are filtered and turned into urine.

When you’re having dehydration, the kidneys can reabsorb more water and make less urine. This mechanism is related to the release of hormone from the brain called anti-diuretic hormone (learn more in here)!

The kidneys are naturally designed with small, complex small networks of nephrons (very tiny tubes to filter blood). And there are about 1 million nephrons in each kidney. These nephrons are the key of why your kidneys can filter blood (removing unneeded things –and– reabsorbing any things needed by the body).

What is kidney failure?

As the name suggests, it is a condition of when the kidney doesn’t work well enough or even stops working. Again, it can occur suddenly (acute) or slowly over time (chronic, it is usually associated with chronic kidney disease).

The worst scenario is a condition called ESRD (end-stage renal disease), when the failure is permanent.  Both acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease can lead to ESRD. And if ESRD has occurred, dialysis (a procedure to filter blood with an artificial dialyzer) or kidney transplant is usually the common treatment option.

First signs of acute kidney failure

Alternative names of acute kidney failure are acute kidney injury or acute renal failure. Acute means that the problem occurs suddenly over a few hours or days. In this scenario, the kidneys have suddenly lost its function or suddenly stopped working – they are no longer to be able to filter waste products from bloodstream.

The decline or loss of their filtering ability can lead to dangerous levels of accumulation of wastes in the blood. This can also cause the imbalance of fluid and electrolytes in the body.

In general, acute kidney failure can occur with one or some of the following scenarios:

  1. Blocked tubes that line from kidneys to bladder, these tubes are called ureters. As a result, the wastes get obstructed inside these tubes and cannot leave through urine. This blockage can be caused by numerous different diseases and conditions such as kidney stones, enlarged prostate, colon cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, blood clots found in the urinary tract, or something goes awry with the nerves that control bladder.
  2. Conditions that make the flow of blood to the kidneys become slower than usual – such as heart disease, liver failure, and severe dehydration.
  3. Or if there is a direct damage to the kidneys.

image_illustration398It is commonly found in patients who are already hospitalized, especially those who require intensive care. Other risk factors:

  1. Typically, it is more common in older adults. So the risk increases with age!
  2. Having long-term, chronic conditions that can affect the function of your kidneys such as hypertension, diabetes, kidney diseases, liver diseases, and heart diseases.
  3. It’s also thought that obesity may have an effect on the risk.

In a few cases, it doesn’t cause any sign or symptom. If the symptoms do occur, they can develop quickly and suddenly – these may include:

  1. Fluid retention, which is usually followed with the decline of urine output. This retention can cause puffiness in some parts of the body especially such as in feet, legs, or ankles.
  2. General symptoms of feeling sick such as nausea, confusion, fatigue, or drowsiness.
  3. Feeling of breathless (shortness of breath).
  4. Discomfort pressure in the chest such as chest pain.
  5. Even in advanced stage, the problem can be severe enough to cause seizure or coma!

Again the kidney is crucial to help maintain the balance of the body’s blood chemistry. If this chemistry is out of balance, muscle weakness is likely to occur.

There is also a chance for the problem to cause permanent damage in the kidneys or even death (especially in patients with kidney diseases before acute kidney failure).

First signs of chronic kidney disease (CKD)

CKD is often associated with the increased risk of having kidney failure over time. This also means that the kidneys may still be functioning some, but they are not functioning optimally or as well as they should!

It’s quite rare to find CKD that occurs suddenly, though it may also seem to have come on suddenly in a few cases. Again, typically it develops bit by bit as a result of damage to the kidneys over time. This can take many years.

CKD can be attributing by many factors. In general, the following are common conditions or factors that can contribute to increase your risk:

  1. Age, it is more common in those aged older than 60.
  2. Having chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) or/and high blood sugar (diabetes).
  3. Chronic heart problems.
  4. If you have had a stroke.
  5. A family history of kidney problems may also have an effect.
  6. A personal history of acute kidney failure.
  7. Lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking.

The bad news, there is usually no warning signs and symptoms. Therefore, CKD is also often called as a silent disease. Even it is not uncommon to see patients to lose up to 90% of the function of their kidneys before getting any signs.

However, there are also some symptoms that may signal the early reduced function of the kidneys which may lead to kidney failure if left untreated. These include:

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