20 Signs That Your Kidneys Aren’t Working Properly

The kidneys are among the most important organs in your body, responsible for filtering waste, producing red blood cells, and even keeping your bones strong and sturdy. But despite the many vital roles they play in maintaining a healthy, high-functioning body, it can be hard to determine when these bean-shaped organs aren’t operating at full capacity—especially in the early stages of certain kidney problems. In fact, according to Cynthia Smith, a nurse practitioner with Renal Consultants, approximately “one in three Americans are at risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD)” and “fewer than 50 percent of those with severe CKD know they have a problem.” With that in mind, we’ve compiled the 20 most common—and debilitating—signs you may have a kidney problem. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately to address the issue.

1-Back pain

One of the first noticeable signs you might have a kidney issue is having back pain. Since your kidneys are actually higher up in your abdomen underneath your ribcage, a kidney infection can cause intense pain in the middle to upper back area, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Depending on the severity of the infection, this pain can also spread to the abdomen and groin.

2-Side pain

Kidney stones, which are hard deposits of salt and minerals that form inside the kidney, can be extremely painful when they pass through the ureter and bladder. In fact, according to Los Angeles-based urologist S. Adam Ramin, MD, the pain is often “compared to [that] of childbirth.” The Mayo Clinic says that you’ll know the pain you’re experiencing is from kidney stones when it’s in your side and back and comes in waves, not unlike a kidney infection.

3-Nausea

When a kidney stone moves from your kidney to your ureter, it can block the passing of urine. When this happens, Ramin says you may experience “swelling and pain, which can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.”

4-Frequent urination

If you find yourself heading to the restroom with increased frequency, it could be a sign that something is up with your kidneys. “If the kidney filters are damaged, it can cause an urge to urinate, especially at night,” says Renee Matthews, MD. Considering that frequent urination is also associated with health issues like diabetes and urinary tract infections, this symptom definitely merits a trip to the doctor..

5-Foamy urine

White hand flushing a toilet in the bathroom

Often when kidney function is impaired, “[the] urine has bubbles that won’t go away when you flush the toilet,” says Matthews. “This foam is similar to the foam you see when scrambling eggs because the protein found in urine is albumin, which is the same protein that is found in eggs.”

6Blood in your urine

Close-up of steel toilet handle

According to Matthews, this is another common symptom of kidney disease. If you notice blood in your urine or you notice it looks even a little bit red or brown, it’s important that you get to a doctor before any potential problems get worse.

7-Constipation

Bathroom door open looking at a toilet

Though kidney problems often affect your body’s urinary tract, they can sometimes cause problems with your bowels, as well. According to oncologist Przemyslaw Twardowski, MD, kidney cancer can cause “disturbances in body chemistry”—namely, an overabundance of calcium in the bloodstream—that can lead to constipation. If you’re experiencing this issue and think it’s a sign of a bigger problem, talk to your primary care provider about having your calcium levels checked.

8Dizziness

Woman rubbing her temples with headache and dizziness

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, patients with kidney failure often develop anemia due to a decreased production of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that typically triggers the production of red blood cells. And a very common symptom of anemia is feeling lightheaded or dizzy—others include weakness, headaches, paleness, and difficulty breathing.

9Confusion

Wife Comforting Senior Husband Suffering With Dementia and looking confused

If your brain is feeling a bit fuzzy, and you’re just not at your sharpest mentally, this could be a sign of a kidney problem. According to a 2012 study from Temple University, decreased kidney function is strongly correlated with cognitive impairment and verbal memory issues. And, according to Twardowski, high calcium levels caused by kidney cancer can result in feelings of confusion.

10Chronic itching

Close-up Of An African Man Scratching His arm

Excessive urea in the bloodstream caused by kidney malfunction can cause serious itching—a symptom not to be taken lightly. In fact, a 2015 paper published in Seminars in Nephrology notes that up to 40 percent of patients with end-stage kidney disease develop pruritus, or chronic itching.