Detecting kidney problems early

THE signs and symptoms of kidney disease are often non-specific and can be shared by a long list of other diseases.

However, a combination of these signs may indicate early kidney disease and remind you to get your kidneys checked before the damage worsens.

1. Look out for symptoms of failing kidney function

As our kidneys help our body remove excess water, failing kidneys can cause the body to retain more water than it should. This can result in puffiness around the eyes and swelling in the hands and feet.

Our kidneys are also supposed to help regulate our blood pressure. When the kidneys are damaged, we might also develop high blood pressure.

After "filtering" our blood, our kidneys excrete excess water, waste products, and toxins through our urine. Damaged or diseased kidneys may not filter out as much urine as it normally should (decreased urine volume), and people with kidney disease may experience problems with urination (pain, or frequent urination).

Our kidneys are located at the back, just below our ribs. Therefore, pain in the mid-back can also indicate problems with the kidney.

2. Assess the product: Your urine

It may be difficult to detect early changes in the urine just by looking at it, but changes that are obvious, like when the urine becomes:

  • foamy (the presence of a lot of protein),
  • bloody (the presence of blood), or
  • ¬†coffee-coloured urine (presence of blood or pigmented proteins)

These signs should ring a few warning bells.

3. Let the machines do the rest

Trace amounts of protein or blood often do not change the appearance of urine, although they may indicate reduced kidney function and early kidney disease. However, a urine analysis lab test may pick them up.

When these are found, doctors may advise further testing that will involve blood tests to measure abnormalities in the blood that indicate reduced kidney function, like increased levels of serum creatinine (creatinine is a waste product in the blood that is excreted by the kidneys).

A calculation of the glomerular filtration rate from serum creatinine levels (called the estimated GFR or eGFR) will tell doctors whether a person's kidneys are functioning normally. The eGFR is also used to determine the stage, or severity of chronic kidney disease.