Kidney disease is caused by many different conditions that damage the kidneys and reduce kidney function. Approximately one in nine Americans has been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease, which is also known as chronic renal failure or chronic renal insufficiency. High blood pressure, some types of cancer and certain pain medications also increase the risk of kidney disease. Patients often do not experience symptoms until the kidneys are severely damaged, at which point serious health effects begin to appear.
One of the first symptoms of kidney disease is the need to urinate frequently, particularly during the night. The urine often appears almost completely clear in color, because the kidneys have stopped filtering waste out of blood and into the urine.
Fatigue and Ill Health
Because the kidneys stop filtering blood in patients with kidney disease, waste products begin to accumulate in the blood. This can lead to fatigue, often accompanied by a feeling of general ill health. Headaches are another common symptom, as is dry skin and a generalized itching sensation throughout the body, known as pruritis. Patients with kidney disease may also experience nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite and dramatic, unintentional weight loss leading to tissue wasting.
Another effect of decreased kidney function is a general increase of fluid in the body. This may cause swelling, also known as edema, often in the feet, hands, face and abdomen. The increased fluids can also result in high blood pressure, because the heart needs to pump harder in order to circulate the larger volume of fluids through the body. This high blood pressure can in turn worsen the damage to the kidneys and hasten disease progression.
Drowsiness and Confusion
Kidney disease may also cause damage to nerves in the brain and body, leading to mental disturbances. Patients may experience drowsiness, confusion, difficulty maintaining concentration or forming thoughts, and seizures. Some patients may also experience numbness or tingling in the feet, hands or other body parts. Muscles may also spontaneously twitch or cramp without apparent cause. Patients may experience a decrease in sex drive, accompanied by impotence.
Problems falling asleep can result from kidney disease. Patients may experience unexplained insomnia, or sleep may be disrupted by conditions such as restless leg syndrome, in which the legs uncontrollably twitch and spasm before sleep, or obstructive sleep apnea, in which the throat becomes swollen and blocks breathing during sleep.
Patients with kidney disease may feel abdominal or back pain. The pain is often felt in the back and sides, around the area of the kidneys, between the ribs and hips. Patients may also experience generalized pain in the bones and joints.