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Exploring the Role and Function of the Kidneys

Signs and Symptoms

Most people living with chronic kidney disease have few if any symptoms until their kidney function is severely compromised. In the later stages of kidney disease, stages four and five, you may begin to notice some abnormal changes in your body's function and the way you feel overall.

Common implications of low kidney function may include the following signs and symptoms:

High blood pressure (hypertension)
Narrowing in arteries causes an increase in blood pressure and decreased delivery of blood to the kidneys. This triggers the kidneys to release hormones that increase the amount of water and salt kept in your body. The result of this function further worsens your blood pressure and causes excessive fluid build-up in many parts of the body.

Swelling of the eyes, hands and feet (edema)

Swelling occurs because the kidneys can no longer excrete the excess water and salt from the body. Proteins such as albumin normally help keep fluid in our blood vessels. In people with chronic kidney disease however, these proteins may be lost in the urine. The effect of water retention and reduced albumin in the blood stream results in fluid moving out of the blood vessels and into the tissues causing edema.

Presence of foaming in the urine

Foaming is a result of the accumulation of proteins in the urine, also known as proteinuria.  Proteinuria occurs as a result of glomerular damage. The damage to these small filtering units allows proteins to leak through the glomerular membrane and into the urine.

Fatigue and difficulty concentrating

People living with decreased kidney function usually feel tired as a result of changes in appetite and anemia. Anemia occurs with the decline in the number of red blood cells in the body. This happens with patients living with chronic kidney disease. Their ability to produce erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that produces red blood cells, is reduced. As a result of the reduced number of blood cells, there is less oxygen available to energize their cells and tissues.

Loss of weight and appetite

Appetite and weight may change as a result of the buildup waste in blood that cannot be excreted by the damaged kidneys. This is a condition known as uremia. Uremia causes patients to feel nauseous and have altered taste with food, and overall loss of appetite leading to weight loss.

Generalized Itching
Generalized itching occurs with patients living with chronic kidney disease. The inflammatory processes that occur in the body result from the buildup of waste products in the blood. Patients with chronic kidney disease may experience itching as a result of the imbalance between calcium and phosphorous. The low levels of calcium in the blood cause our body to draw calcium from our bones. This causes calcium to deposit or calcify, in our tissues and vessels that cause the itching.