Get To Know Your Kidneys: Understanding the Warning Signs of Kidney Disease

Did you know that your kidneys are only about the size of your fists? These small but powerful organs carry the huge responsibility of filtering waste from our blood. With such an important function, it’s crucial to maintain your kidneys’ health — but how do you know if your kidneys are healthy? And how can you protect them from damage? Read on to learn more.

What do my kidneys do and why are they important?

Our kidneys perform a host of vital functions. They maintain a healthy balance of water and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. The kidneys also regulate blood pressure and help produce red blood cells. They are the only organs that filter our blood. Without them, toxins can build up in the body — this build-up can potentially turn deadly.

How do I know if my kidneys are healthy?

Know Your Family History: Does anyone in your family have kidney issues or renal failure?  Does high blood pressure or diabetes run in your family? If you answered yes, don’t panic. Instead, be proactive and informed. Many of us have family members with these health concerns. These factors could be a clue about your own kidney health and your risk for developing kidney disease. If you are unsure of your family history, consider starting the conversation with your family about kidney health.

Know Your Medical History: Have you been diagnosed with any medical conditions or diseases? Uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to kidney damage. One of the most important warning signs is if your blood pressure is abnormally high despite taking medication. If this is the case, it’s time to get tested for kidney disease.

Look for Signs and Symptoms: One way to monitor your kidney health is being aware of what to look for. These signs and symptoms may mask themselves as other issues that have little effect on your daily life. This is why kidney disease is sometimes called a “silent disease” and can be difficult to catch early on.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Family History of Kidney Disease
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Always feeling cold
  • Frequent fainting or dizzy spells
  • Prolonged swelling of the legs and feet
  • Blood in the urine
  • Foamy or brown-colored urine
  • Unrelenting tiredness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Puffiness around the eyes
  • Lack of appetite and persistent nausea

Talk With Your Doctor: As essential as the kidneys are, their decline can go unnoticed for months, or even years because signs and symptoms are usually not immediate. Staying up to date on your kidney health often begins with a conversation with your doctor. Ask them about kidney labs, also referred to as renal labs, and inform them of any abnormal signs and symptoms you’ve noticed. If appropriate, the doctor may run blood and urine tests that help determine your level of kidney function.

I want to be proactive about my kidney health. What’s next?

Take the opportunity to tackle kidney disease head on. Remember the four tips for staying on top of your kidney health: know your family history, know your medical history, look for signs and symptoms, and talk with your doctor. If you or someone you know is dealing with these warning signs, make contacting a doctor a priority, and visit for more information and resources.

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