Signs That Might Indicate a Kidney Problem

The human body is fascinating and incredibly complex. It’s a system of various processes all working in conjunction to keep you alive. When considering the multitude of bodily functions that must do this work, our body’s design is nothing less than amazing. But when a health condition arises that affects the body, it can be tough to know what’s wrong based on where and how the symptoms present themselves.

Take your kidneys, for example. If there’s an issue with them, it doesn’t always present as obvious “kidney” pain. Many people don’t know where, exactly, their kidneys are located in the first place, so isolating a problem with them can be a challenge for anyone who isn’t a health care provider or human anatomy professor. In this article, I highlight five common kidney conditions and the not-always-obvious symptoms that may indicate a problem with one or both of them.

Kidney stones. Kidney stones are hard accumulations of acidic salts and minerals that have built up in the urine. Sudden onset of flank pain (the area just below the backside of the rib cage) may indicate that a kidney stone is on the move. This kind of pain is usually felt as cramping or sharp and may come and go. Pain from kidney stones can also radiate from the back to the front of the abdomen down to the groin. The pain is associated with nausea and vomiting, as well as blood in the urine.

[SEE: 10 Symptoms of a Kidney Problem.]

Kidney infection. A kidney infection is due to migration of bacteria from various parts of the body into the kidney. Kidney infections are rare. They may happen as a result of kidney stones, spread from colon infection or perforation, or result from the obstruction of urine flow from the kidney down to the bladder. While possible, bladder infections rarely cause kidney infections. Symptoms usually include flank pain and fever. The fever brought on by a kidney infection can fluctuate on the thermometer, rather than be constant. The resulting pain from a kidney infection is usually dull rather than sharp but can still be incredibly severe. One may also notice blood in the urine and nausea as kidney infection symptoms.

Kidney cancer. Kidney cancer involves tumors or cancerous growths that begin in one or both kidneys, with renal cell carcinoma being the most common kidney cancer type. Most people do not have any signs or symptoms in the initial stages of this type of cancer. However, as cancer grows, there are a variety of symptoms that can present themselves. Patients with a triad of symptoms, including abdominal mass, flank pain and blood in the urine, should be evaluated for kidney cancer with imaging studies such as a CT scan or MRI. Kidney cancer may also cause a sensation of fullness in the abdomen, loss of appetite, anemia, fevers, hypertension and blood clots.

[See: Kidney Cancer Symptoms.]

Acute kidney failure. People who develop a sudden onset of kidney failure will have fluid retention and a buildup of toxins in their blood, such as urea nitrogen. Symptoms associated with sudden onset of kidney failure are swelling of the extremities, low urine production, dark urine color and mental fogginess or confusion. Some of the possible causes of sudden kidney failure onset may also include heart conditions. In patients with advanced complications of diabetes, hypertension and heart failure, there is reduced blood flow to the kidneys, causing kidney failure. Other causes may include excess ingestion of anti-inflammatory medications, inflammatory diseases of the blood vessel walls, enlarged prostate in men, enlarged uterus in women and bilateral kidney stones.

Kidney fracture. While this condition is extremely uncommon, blunt trauma to the abdomen can cause injury to the kidney. For instance, high-impact automobile accidents, tackle-related football injuries and physical altercations may cause enough of a forceful impact to result in a tear or fracture in the kidney. The symptoms of kidney fractures are usually subtle, and one must have a high level of suspicion based on the mechanism and location of the abdominal injury. Some patients may present with abdominal pain and a history of trauma. In these patients, if blood testing shows anemia (low red blood cells) or if the urine is visibly clear, but under a microscopic exam there is blood in the urine, a CT scan is the most appropriate test to confirm the presence of kidney or renal fracture.

[Read: What Foods Should You Eat or Avoid If You Have Kidney Stones?]

As you can see, actual pain that is attributable to the kidney itself isn’t usually how these issues make themselves known. However, each of these symptoms warrants an urgent visit to your health care provider for evaluation and treatment. Because your kidneys aid in keeping your whole body functioning, it’s crucial to take any issue involving one or both of them as seriously as you would a heart condition. Your kidneys are amazing organs, so let’s do our part to keep them healthy.

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