Renal diseases occur when kidneys are damaged and cannot filter the blood properly. The kidneys are bean-shaped, about the size of a fist, and located on either side of the spine. The last two ribs protect the kidneys from injury. The kidneys filter extra water and waste out of the blood and produce urine.
Disorders related to the kidneys and urinary tract are the tenth major causes of illness and death in the US. About 6 million people (2.6% of the population) in the United States are affected by renal disease. These occur when kidneys are damaged and cannot function normally. Conditions like diabetes and hypertension can lead to kidney damage. Kidney disease can cause many other health problems, like nerve damage, weak bones, and malnutrition.
Signs and symptoms:
Those experiencing any renal disease may have completely different symptoms. The following are the most common signs and symptoms:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Itchiness all over the body or dry skin
- Skin may darken
- Swelling of hands and feet
- Swelling around the eyes
- Muscle cramps or pain in the small of the back just below the ribs
These symptoms may seem like other health problems. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and proper treatment.
Causes of renal disorders:
Renal diseases may include health conditions, such as kidney stones, kidney failure, and kidney cancer. These kidney problems may be the result of the following conditions:
- Aging: With increasing age, changes occur in the structure of the kidneys that make them lose their ability to filter wastes from the blood. The muscles in the bladder, ureters, and urethra also tend to lose some of their strength. But it doesn’t cause chronic kidney diseases.
- Toxicity: The buildup of certain substances, such as toxins in the body, certain medicines, or toxic substances such as poisons, can cause damage to the kidneys leading to renal disorders.
- Illness or injury: Kidney damage is often caused by inflammation, illness, immune response, or an injury. These injuries can also block the passage of urine or prevent the kidneys from filtering the blood properly.
- High blood pressure: Those with diabetes and hypertension are at a high risk of kidney disease. High blood pressure is harmful to the kidneys as it can increase the pressure on the glomeruli. These are the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys where blood is filtered. The increased pressure damages these tiny vessels and kidneys are unable to function properly.
Common renal disorders
Most kidney disorders damage the nephrons making kidneys unable to filter wastes. The following are common renal disorders:
Chronic kidney disease
The most commonly experienced form of kidney disease is chronic kidney disease. It is also known as chronic kidney failure and involves a gradual loss of kidney function. It is generally caused by high blood pressure Kidney function is damaged to a level where the kidneys can no longer perform their function adequately. At this stage, a patient would need to go on dialysis. Dialysis filters extra fluid and wastes out of the blood, but it can’t cure the disease. A kidney transplant may also be needed depending on the condition of the patient.
Diabetes is also one of the major cause of chronic kidney disease. It is a group of diseases that lead to high blood sugar. The increased amount of glucose in the blood damages the renal blood vessels over time, and the kidneys fail to clean the blood properly. The body becomes overloaded with toxins if the kidneys are not working properly.
Kidney stones are hard deposits inside the kidneys. It is another common kidney problem and occurs when various substances like minerals present in the blood crystalize in the kidneys and form stone-like solid masses. Kidney stones are usually ejected out of the body during urination. Passing kidney stones is extremely painful, but they rarely cause significant problems.
Signs and symptoms indicating kidney stones are:
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Pink, red, or brown urine
- A persistent need to urinate, urinating in small amounts, or more often than usual
Polycystic kidney disease
Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes several cysts (small sacs of fluid) to grow inside the kidneys. Initially, the clusters of cysts develop within the kidneys, causing them to enlarge and then eventually stop renal function over time. These cysts are noncancerous round-shaped sacs containing fluid. These cysts vary in size and can grow very large. Having many large-sized cysts can damage the kidneys.
Symptoms of polycystic kidney disease may include:
- Blood in your urine (hematuria)
- Back or side pain (flank pain)
- A feeling of fullness in your abdomen
- Enlarged size of the abdomen
- Kidney stones
- Urinary tract or kidney infections
- Kidney failure
Urinary tract infections
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection anywhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. Most UTIs affect the lower urinary tract, the urethra, and the bladder. They can be treated easily and seldom create more urinary problems. But, if left untreated, these infections can reach the kidneys and lead to kidney failure.
Normally, urinary tract infections have no symptoms, but in some cases, they can include:
- A burning sensation when urinating
- A strong persistent urge to urinate
- Urine appears loudly
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Strong smelling urine
- Urine that appears bright pink, red, or cola-colored, which indicates blood in the urine
- Pelvic pain in women
Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli, an extremely small structure inside the kidneys that filter the blood. Glomerulonephritis can be due to congenital abnormalities, infections, or drugs. Often, it gets better on its own.
Glomerulonephritis occurs on its own or as a result of another disease, such as diabetes or lupus. Prolonged or severe inflammation caused by glomerulonephritis can also damage the kidneys. Treatment depends on the type of disorder and the severity affecting the patient.
Prevention and treatment
There are risk factors for kidney disease, such as race, age, or family history that can’t be controlled. However, patients may take the following preventive measures to decrease the risk of kidney disease:
- Drink plenty of water
- Control blood pressure
- Control blood sugar in case you have diabetes
- Quit smoking
- Reduce the use of salt
Treatment of kidney disease usually depends on controlling the root causes of the disease. Your doctor can help you better manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Medication, dietary modifications, and lifestyle changes can manage kidney disease.
- MedlinePlus. Kidney disease. 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/kidneydiseases.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats: Kidney disease. 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/kidney-disease.htm
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Kidney disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease
- Johnson, S. Kidney health and kidney disease basics. 2018.