Signs of Kidney Problems and Possible Causes

The human body contains a pair of bean-shaped kidneys that are located in the back of the abdominal cavity. The kidneys are responsible for the production of urine, through which the body excretes its metabolic waste products. Apart from urine production, the kidneys are also key organs in the maintenance of homeostasis in the body.

The kidneys contribute to the maintenance of body homeostasis through the regulation of blood pH, regulation of electrolyte balance in the blood, maintenance of fluid balance, and maintenance of blood pressure. In addition, the kidneys are also responsible for the production of hormones such as erythropoietin and calcitriol. All of these critical processes in the body get affected when kidneys are not able to perform their normal functions due to any disease or injury.

In fact, kidney failure is a potentially lethal disease. Disruption of kidney functions do not always occur due to problems within the kidneys. Kidney function may also be disrupted by problems that occur outside the kidneys. Problems in other organs, both within and outside the urinary system, can affect kidney function indirectly.

Read more about kidney failure.

Signs and Symptoms

Kidney problems could either arise suddenly (termed acute) or develop gradually over a long period of time (termed chronic). In case of acute kidney problems, signs and symptoms are immediately evident. However, in case of chronic kidney problems, the signs and symptoms are not apparent from the beginning or are not specifically indicative of a kidney problem. Many times, chronic kidney dysfunction gets diagnosed through blood tests.

Significant kidney damage and renal failure can occur by the time chronic kidney dysfunction is diagnosed.  The most obvious signs and symptoms of kidney problems relate to urine production and urination. This my include:

  • Reduced or no urine output
  • Frequent urination
  • Burning and/or pain during urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pus in the urine
  • Protein in the urine

However, kidney problems itself may not always present with these obvious urinary symptoms as a bladder infection would do. The following are some of the non-urinary signs and symptoms that may appear when kidney problems occur:

  • Swelling or edema of various parts of the body such as arms, legs, face, abdomen or the entire body
  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Skin rashes and itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Pain in the sides of the abdomen (flanks)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

As can be seen from the generality of the signs and symptoms mentioned above, it is difficult to immediately point to kidney dysfunction when these signs and symptoms first appear.

Read more about flank pain.

Causes of Kidney Problems

As mentioned earlier, kidney problems may arise not just from causes located within the kidney, but also from causes located in other organs, both within and outside the urinary system. Therefore, the causes (and signs and symptoms) of kidney problems could be considered in the categories of pre-renal, renal and post-renal causes.

Pre-renal causes

Pre-renal causes account for 40%-70% of all kidney problems. These causes are mostly located in organs outside the urinary system. Some of the early signs and symptoms of kidney problems due to pre-renal causes include:

  • Changes in the urine output and frequency (anuria, oliguria and polyuria)
  • Changes in the nature of urine (concentrated or dilute)
  • Blood in the urine (technically referred to as hematuria)
  • Presence of proteins in the urine (technically referred to as proteinuria)

The following are some of the pre-renal causes of kidney problems:

  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Dehydration
  • Diabetes mellitus or diabetes insipidus
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Shock caused by substantial loss of blood
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Sepsis

Renal causes

This category pertains to causes that lie within the kidneys themselves. Renal causes contribute to 20-50% of all cases of kidney problems. Some of the early signs and symptoms that may accompany kidney problems due to renal causes include the following:

  • Pain in the kidneys, perceived as pain in the flanks
  • Presence of blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Presence of proteins in the urine (proteinuria)
  • Presence of white blood cells in the urine (technically referred to as leukocyturia)

Some of the conditions that can affect the kidneys directly may include the following:

  • Trauma and subsequent muscle breakdown
  • Transfusion of blood
  • Surgery
  • Sepsis
  • Shock, caused by sudden loss of a large volume of blood
  • Autoimmune diseases (such as Goodpasture’s syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus)
  • HIV infection and AIDS
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Certain drugs (such as antibiotics, diuretics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and ACE inhibitors)

Post-renal causes

Post-renal causes account for about 10-20% of all kidney problems. Post-renal causes are usually located in other regions of the urinary tract, such as the ureter, the urinary bladder and the urethra. In men, problems in the prostate gland may also affect kidney functions.

The following are some of the early signs and symptoms of kidney problems that may arise due to problems in the ureter:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Pain caused by urinary stones
  • Pain in the flanks

The following are some of the early signs and symptoms of kidney problems that may arise due to problems in the urinary bladder:

  • Blood in urine (hematuria)
  • Decrease in urine output (oliguria and anuria)
  • Discomfort or pain above the pubic region
  • Lack of control over urine flow (incontinence)
  • Pain during urination (dysuria)
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections

The following are some of the early signs and symptoms of kidney problems that may arise due to problems in the urethra:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Reduction of urine (oliguria and anuria)
  • Pain during urination (dysuria)
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)

The following are some of the early signs and symptoms of kidney problems that may arise due to problems in the prostate gland in men:

  • Frequent urination
  • Retention of urine
  • Dribbling of urine after completing urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections

Some of the main post-renal causes of kidney problems are:

  • Stones in the urinary bladder or the ureter
  • Tumor in the urinary bladder
  • Tumor of prostate gland in men
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

More Related Topics