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What Are the Symptoms of Enlarged Kidneys?

author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
What Are the Symptoms of Enlarged Kidneys?
What Are the Symptoms of Enlarged Kidneys?

There are a number of reasons for enlarged kidneys, from polycystic kidney disease to infections, alcoholism and cancer. The Mayo Clinic reports that patients often go for years without noticing they have enlarged kidneys. Normal sized kidneys cannot be felt with a physical examination, report researchers at Merck. Enlarged kidneys may be discovered when doctors treat symptoms or as part of a prostrate or pelvic exam.


Burning or pain during urination can be a sign of a urinary tract infection that can cause enlarged kidneys. The pain may be localized near the pelvis, over the bladder or near the lower part of the abdomen. Men with an infection often feel pain at the end of the urethra, while women often experience pain near the opening of the vagina. Pain felt in the side of the lower abdomen is often associated with a rapidly swelling the kidney. The pain also may originate in the lower back or radiate out from the abdomen when the kidney is enlarged. When the outer covering of the kidney swells, it can cause severe pain and lead to nausea and vomiting. A kidney stone also can cause severe pain in the lower back. When a stone become lodged in the urinary tract, it can cause the kidney to enlarge and create pain that comes in waves, lasting from 20 to 30 minutes.


Swelling is sometimes noticed when a patient experiences rapid weight gain that cannot be attributed to other causes. As the kidneys fail and become enlarged, fluids cannot be processed properly and begin to accumulate in the ankles, abdomen, lower back and face. According to doctors at Merck, kidney failure results as the fluid leaks into the tissues of the body.

Heart failure also can cause swelling of the kidneys as the weak pumping of the heart signals the kidney to retain salt and fluids. Advanced liver disease also creates a swollen liver as the organ holds salt and fluids. Kidney disease can be ruled out if the swelling is localized to just one area, as the entire body is affected by fluid retention in the kidneys

Changes in Urination

Changes in urination patterns may direct a physician to check out the kidneys for further examination and look for growth. When the kidneys cannot handle increased amounts of fluid intake or fluid retention caused by caffeine and alcohol, they can become enlarged and the patient either urinates more often than usual or feels the need to urinate more often. Various forms of diabetes cause frequent urination and harm the kidneys. While needing to urinate frequently during the night is not uncommon in older people, it often signals the early stages of a kidney disorder. Enlarged kidneys are a side effect of nocturia, the need to urinate often during the night. Blood in the urine is another symptom that directs doctors to check out the patient for enlarged kidneys.

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