Signs and symptoms of renal failure

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located below the ribs on either side of your spine. They are quite small compared to the rest of the body, but around 25% of the blood your heart pumps every minute is directed towards this organ. The kidneys have very important functions, and they are essential to eliminate certain toxins and metabolic wastes that your body no longer needs and might become a problem if they are retained in your blood for a long time. Additionally, they have a regulator system that detects your blood pressure and maintains a healthy cardiovascular function. That is why renal failure is a worrying problem that will become life-threatening if not promptly treated.

Renal failure can be acute or chronic depending on the cause, but the majority of signs and symptoms are common for both conditions. They include the following:

1. Reduced volume of urine

The main function of the kidneys is inspecting the blood and eliminating any excess, including excess water. The kidneys are responsible for creating urine, and one of the main symptoms of renal failure is a reduction in the volume of urine that is eliminated every day. This reduction in the volume of urine is maintained even in patients who drink enough water because the main cause is that the kidneys are becoming unable to process blood and create urine.

2. Swelling of the legs

The baseline of renal failure is an impairment in the normal function of the kidneys to process and eliminate urine. Therefore, one of the main symptoms patients may report is liquid retention, which is often detected in the lower extremities. Swelling of the legs is common in kidney and liver problems, but not for the same reasons. In the liver, it is caused by a deficiency in blood proteins while swelling related to the kidneys is an accumulation of body fluids that cannot be eliminated through the urine. This symptom is clinically named edema, and it is possible to experience edema in many other body parts, especially the face, hands and feet.

3. Ascites

In extreme cases of fluid retention, patients may also build up fluid in the abdominal cavity. This is clinically named ascites, and it only appears in severe cases, usually in patients with a diagnosed renal disease and undergoing hemodialysis. It is a progressive condition that becomes worse when the patient neglects his condition and in the last stage might even compromise the respiratory function. Besides fluid retention, certain types of renal failure may also lead to a loss of blood proteins, which is a precipitating factor to edema and ascites.

4. Fatigue

One of the most common symptoms in renal failure. Fatigue in kidney disease is a debilitating and persistent symptom that arises when patients do not attend dialysis when it is required, and it is the first stage of the complications patients may report in kidney disease. Fatigue may also be explained by anemia, a medical entity that is usually present in renal failure and compromises the transport of oxygen to the tissues. Fatigue can be so debilitating in these patients that many of them decide to quit their job, and it compromises their quality of life and social activities.

5. Confusion and other neurologic symptoms

Renal failure problems do not only arise from an excess body fluid but also because certain electrolytes and metabolic waste the kidney was supposed to level out are not in control. Thus, the body chemistry becomes impaired, and several body systems start to fail as well as the toxins and metabolic waste builds up. These patients usually have a series of neurologic symptoms, especially during the last stage of the disease. It is common to experience confusion, sedation, or delirium, three different abnormal mental states that only arise when there’s an alteration in the brain and associated organs.

6. Hypertension

The kidneys are fundamental organs to control our blood pressure because they detect high levels of blood pressure and act accordingly to increase urine production and bring back blood pressure to normal readings through a series of hormonal changes. Therefore, renal failure often features something called secondary hypertension. This hypertension is caused by a primary defect in the normal function of the kidneys and won’t be resolved until the patient is successfully controlled. This type of hypertension is often more severe than primary or idiopathic hypertension and reaches alarmingly high blood pressure readings.

7. Palpitations and other cardiovascular symptoms

Similar to what happens to the brain, the alterations in the renal function may also impair the cardiovascular system in many other ways besides hypertension. Since there is a defective levelling of electrolytes, an increase in body water, and many other alterations in the blood, certain organs in the cardiovascular system start to suffer. The heart needs a balance between sodium, potassium and calcium in order to operate properly, and patients with renal failure and a poor control may end up with myocardial infarction, arrhythmias and other cardiac problems.

Unlike many other ailments, renal failure does not cause any type of pain unless the root cause of the alteration causes pain. Thus, some people neglect their condition and do not look for medical help until it is too late. It is important to detect and treat renal failure as soon as possible, both in acute and chronic cases. By doing so, it will be possible to offer more options and solutions to the patient, and the rate of complications is significantly reduced.

Treatment for renal failure varies from one person to another. Not every case requires dialysis, and not every case is irreversible. Sometimes certain drugs or toxins are causing a temporary alteration, and by identifying and removing the causative agent, the renal function goes back to normal. Other cases of renal failure are associated with severe problems and concerning symptoms such as blood in the urine. In any case, if you have a doubt and detect that something is just not right with your body, the best decision is to talk to your doctor about it and find a solution together.