How to Manage Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Symptoms of kidney disease vary depending on the kind of kidney disease. The symptoms of chronic diseases, like hypertension and diabetes, are harder to recognize at first because they develop over time. Because symptoms may be few or mild early in renal failure, make sure to discuss any changes with your doctor.

Common symptoms of kidney disease include:

  • Changes in urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness/Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness, especially when you change positions quickly
  • Chest pain
  • Cramping in your legs 
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches, usually severe and persistent. “thunderclap” headaches

Essential hypertension (high blood pressure) is often the first sign of chronic kidney disease. When kidneys fail, they can no longer remove fluid or wastes from your body. As waste accumulates in your blood vessels, the blood pressure rises.

The most common symptom is swelling in your legs, feet, and ankles. Your ankles might also feel tight or full of fluid when you stand up after sitting for a while. This is called “non-pitting edema” because the skin doesn’t sink in when you press on it with your finger.

Managing Symptoms

Make sure you have a primary care physician, family doctor, kidney specialist or nephrologist who coordinates your care to ensure that all of your health needs are met. In addition, keep a record of how much protein and waste is in your urine so you can report any changes to your doctor. Request home testing equipment from your insurance company if it is available.

  • Pharmacologic management of kidney disease includes
  • Prevention, monitoring, and treatment of hypertension 
  • Treatment with antibiotics to reduce the risk for infection
  • Shock therapy which is used if your kidneys stop working (renal replacement therapy)
  • Lastly, it’s important to follow up regularly with your doctor.

The best way to manage kidney disease is usually with a combination of strategies that may include:

  • Diet and lifestyle changes, such as reducing salt in your diet, quitting smoking if you smoke, controlling diabetes if you have it, and managing stress.
  • Pharmacologic therapy which includes diuretics to remove fluid from the body when your kidneys cannot
  • Blood pressure medication to lower blood pressure when necessary
  • Pharmacologic management of high cholesterol (lipid-lowering medications)
  • Surgery which may be needed if you develop an obstruction, like kidney stones or cancer. Kidney transplantation is very successful and can restore life expectancy to normal for many people; however, it is a long and complex procedure.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension), the most common medical disorder in the world, is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure is important because it forces blood through your arteries and blood vessels to all parts of your body. The heart pumps the blood out into the arteries, which are basically tubes that carry blood away from your heart to the rest of the body.

As blood moves through your arteries, it is forced against the artery walls, which are elastic and smooth muscles that stretch when blood pumps through them. These muscles work very hard to accommodate all of the demands on your heart, so they must be in good shape to function well. If these arteries are damaged in some