Kidney Disease

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is often called a "silent" disease, because most people have no symptoms with early kidney disease. In fact, you might feel just fine until your kidneys have almost stopped working. Do NOT wait for symptoms! If you are at risk for kidney disease, talk to your health care provider about getting tested.

(Watch the video to learn more about the symptoms of kidney disease. To enlarge the videos on this page, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner of the video screen. To reduce the videos, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

Kidney failure means that damaged kidneys are filtering less than 15% of the amount of blood filtered by healthy kidneys. If kidney disease progresses to kidney failure, a number of symptoms may occur. Some people experience fatigue, some lose their appetite, and some have leg cramps. These problems are caused by waste products that build up in the blood, a condition known as uremia. Healthy kidneys remove waste products from the blood. When the kidneys stop working, uremia occurs.

The kidneys also make hormones and balance the minerals in the blood. When the kidneys stop working, most people develop conditions that affect the blood, bones, nerves, and skin. These problems may include itching, sleep problems, restless legs, weak bones, joint problems, and depression.

How Kidney Disease Is Diagnosed

Blood and urine tests are the only way to check for kidney damage or measure kidney function. It is important for you to get checked for kidney disease if you have the key risk factors, which are

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • a family history of kidney failure.

If you are at risk, ask about your kidneys at your next medical appointment. The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure.

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, you should get a blood and urine test to check your kidneys. Talk to your provider about how often you should be tested.

(Watch the video to learn more about tests for kidney disease.)

Blood Test

The blood test checks your GFR. GFR stands for glomerular (glow-MAIR-you-lure) filtration rate. GFR is a measure of how much blood your kidneys filter each minute. This shows how well your kidneys are working.

GFR is reported as a number.

  • A GFR of 60 or higher is in the normal range.
  • A GFR below 60 may mean you have kidney disease. However, because GFR decreases as people age, other information may be needed to determine if you actually have kidney disease.
  • A GFR of 15 or lower may mean kidney failure.

You can't raise your GFR, but you can try to keep it from going lower. Ask your healthcare provider what you can do to keep your kidneys healthy.

Learn more about the GFR test.

Urine Test

The urine test looks for albumin (al-BYOO-min), a type of protein, in your urine. A healthy kidney does not let albumin pass into the urine. A damaged kidney lets some albumin pass into the urine.

This test has several different names. You could be told that you are being screened for "proteinuria" or "albuminuria" or "microalbuminuria." Or you could be told that your "urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio" (UACR) is being measured.

If you have albumin or protein in your urine, it could mean you have kidney disease.

  • A urine albumin result below 30 is normal.
  • A urine albumin result above 30 is not normal and may mean kidney disease.

Learn more about the urine albumin test.

Your healthcare provider might do additional tests to be sure.