Early Signs of Kidney Disease

iPurestock/Purestock/Getty Images

Kidney disease affects millions of Americans, yet few signs or symptoms indicate the onset of the disease. As the disease progresses symptoms may easily be ignored or mistaken for other conditions. Awareness and recognition of early signs of kidney disease can mean the difference between early detection and treatment and kidney failure resulting in dialysis, transplant or even death.

Warning signs

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) includes a list of 6 warning signs for kidney disease including high blood pressure, blood and or protein in the urine, abnormal lab results, such as high creatinine or blood urea nitrogen (BUN) or a low glomerular filtration rate (GFR). These symptoms can signal that the kidneys have become damaged and no longer function to remove waste products to maintain health.

The National Kidney Disease Education Program (NKDEP) says that certain groups present a higher risk including those with diabetes or high blood pressure or a family history of kidney disease. Some populations such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans are at higher risk for diabetes and high blood pressure thus at high risk for kidney disease. Other at risk groups include Asians, American Natives and Pacific Islanders.


According to the NKDEP early kidney disease rarely causes any symptoms. However symptoms that can develop as the disease progresses often prove vague and can be ignored or mistaken for other conditions. A person may become more tired than usual or have a hard time concentrating, often with decreased appetite and dry itchy skin. Sleep disturbances can include nighttime muscle cramps.

Testing is the key

The NKF and NKDEP report that the only way to know for sure if you have kidney disease includes having blood and urine tests. The NKF recommends that people with diabetes, high blood pressure, other types of heart disease or anyone who has a family history of kidney disease get tested regularly. Tests include blood for creatinine and BUN and urine for protein.

Kidney disease is progressive and can lead to kidney failure. This life threatening condition requires treatment to maintain life; dialysis to clean the blood or transplant to replace the damaged organ. Kidney disease also damages other organs such as the heart. The earlier it is found the earlier treatments can be started and complications prevented.