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Chronic Kidney Disease: 20 Common Symptoms of CKD

6 min read

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Gerald Morris

The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste through the blood using tiny filters, called nephrons, and flushing them out of the body via the urine. However, when nephrons get damaged, or worse, a kidney fails completely, waste builds up in the blood and can’t be eliminated from the body, which will result in health concerns.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is often an issue for years before damage starts to take a serious toll on the body. However, the following 20 symptoms do exist and can indicate CKD.  To help you get the treatment you need, be on the lookout for these common symptoms of chronic kidney disease!


In some patients, CKD will cause leg pain, especially in the upper back or where the legs meet the torso (on the same side as the failing kidney). Cysts filled with fluid or kidney stones can also result from kidney disease and cause extreme pain in bursts or spasms that come and go.

Breathing Difficulty

Shortness of breath can result from kidney issues due to extra fluid or swelling in the lungs, which puts pressure on the chest cavity and makes breathing difficult. Decreased oxygen-rich blood cells in the body (anemia) will also cause oxygen depravity with movements (i.e., walking up stairs).

Metallic Taste in Mouth

Uremia, a condition that causes waste to build up in the bloodstream due to improperly working kidneys, will often result in a metallic taste in your mouth.

Skin Irritation

Rashes and irritation of the skin often occurs with unhealthy kidney function due to the fact that they are suddenly inefficient for removing waste from the bloodstream. As waste builds up, it will surface on the skin with rashes, acne, and itching.


Anemia (or oxygen starvation) will often cause the internal body temperature to decrease, resulting in chills, particularly in the extremities such as the feet, hands, ears, and nose, even in a warm room.


A loss of appetite can also occur due to extreme nausea and even vomiting due to wastes lingering in the body and an inability to keep food down (poor digestion).


If the kidneys are failing, excess fluid in the body won’t drain as normal, which results in a buildup of fluid and swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, or hands.


If your kidneys are healthy, they will naturally secrete beneficial levels of a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO), which encourages red blood cell production that carries oxygen to the muscles and brain. If the kidneys are in failure they will produce reduced levels or cease EPO production completely, leading to fatigue and anemia.


Trouble concentrating often results from anemia as well due to the simple fact that the brain is deprived of vital oxygen. Oftentimes, dizziness, lack of focus, poor memory, fainting, and difficulties concentrating will result.

Changes in Urination

Kidneys make urine. So, when the kidneys are failing, changes in urination may occur with patients needing to use the bathroom more urgently and getting up frequently throughout the night to relieve oneself. You may urinate greater quantities and with increased pressure. Urine may also be foamy or contain traces of blood.

Sleep Problems

Another symptom that seems to go hand in hand with CKD is sleep problems. They affect between 45 and 80-percent of people with CKD, particularly those in the late stages of the disease.

Most frequently these sleep problems include disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. It’s also possible to experience periodic limb movements and twitches, which can make it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep. This lack of adequate rest can cause persistent loss of energy and, over time, may even lead to depressive disorders.

Muscle Twitches and Cramps

In addition to sleep problems, people with late-stage CKD may also experience muscle twitches and cramps—most commonly in the legs. There are a variety of different causes of these cramps, including poor blood circulation as a result of fewer red blood cells transporting oxygen to the muscles.

Cramps can also occur if the individual is low on nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, or as a result of fluid and electrolyte loss from frequent vomiting or diarrhea. Nerve damage—which results due to the poorly functioning kidneys allowing a build up of toxins in the body—may also be responsible for the cramps.

Sexual Health Problems

Another common symptom of CKD is changes to a person’s sexual health. In fact, The Kidney Foundation of Canada says, “Over half of all people with chronic kidney disease experience some problem with sexual function.” For women, this may present itself as low libido and vaginal dryness. While for men, common problems include reduced sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculation issues.

There are a variety of reasons sexual health can be impacted by CKD, including fatigue and depression. Certain medications can also impact a person’s desire or ability to be sexually intimate, as can certain conditions (i.e., diabetes and vascular disease) sometimes accompany CKD.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure also commonly occurs with CKD. It is a specific type, however, known as renal hypertension or renovascular hypertension. Renal hypertension is caused by “a narrowing in the arteries that deliver blood to the kidney,” explains WebMD.

This low blood flow makes the kidneys think the body is dehydrated, “So they respond by releasing hormones that stimulate the body to retain sodium and water,” thus resulting in elevated blood pressure. A person does not usually experience any symptoms with renal hypertension, but if they happen to be diagnosed with it the source says it can usually be treated with blood pressure medications.

Lack Of Appetite

Many CKD patients, particularly those on dialysis, experience issues with their appetite. Approximately one-third of patients diagnosed with chronic kidney disease experience a lack of appetite. Many will explain this lack of appetite as always “feeling full,” or it can also be due to “experiencing a strange taste in their mouth.”

Weight Loss

Weight loss is another symptom of chronic kidney disease that goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in appetite. Another reason for dramatic weight loss in CKD patients is due to reduced fluid retention in the body.

Increase In Bruises

In addition to the above-mentioned symptoms, there are a variety of others that tend to present themselves with CKD. For example, people with CKD tend to bruise easily. This may be due to anemia or the disease causing the tissue surrounding the blood vessels to weaken and thus break more easily.


Numbness in the extremities, such as the hands and feet, is also common in patients with chronic kidney disease. In fact, it affects as many as 70 to 90-percent of people with CKD and is due to nerve damage throughout the body.


Headaches are another frequent complaint among people with CKD and may occur due to factors such as high blood pressure, sleep problems, and anemia.

Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Decreased Mental Sharpness

Another common symptom of chronic kidney disease is a significant decrease in mental sharpness and cognitive abilities. A research study led by Dr. Manjula Kurella-Tamura, at the University of California in San Francisco, concluded that “the odds of having reduced cognitive ability were increased by 23% among individuals with chronic kidney disease.”

MD, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

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