Spotting kidney disease symptoms in older people

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Kidney disease is a serious health concern that disproportionately affects elderly adults, often progressing silently with minimal symptoms until it reaches advanced stages.

Early detection and treatment are crucial for managing the disease and preventing further complications.

This review aims to shed light on the symptoms of kidney disease in the elderly, providing vital information for early recognition and timely medical intervention.

Kidney function naturally declines with age, making elderly individuals more susceptible to chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD occurs when the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering waste and excess fluids from the blood, become damaged over time.

This damage prevents them from working effectively, leading to the accumulation of waste products in the body, which can be harmful.

Subtle Onset of Symptoms

One of the challenges with CKD is that its symptoms are often non-specific and can be easily mistaken for normal signs of aging. However, there are several key indicators that may suggest the presence of kidney disease:

Changes in Urination: The most direct symptoms of kidney disease involve changes in urination. Elderly adults may notice they urinate more frequently, especially at night.

The urine may appear foamy or bubbly (indicative of protein in the urine) or contain blood. In some cases, individuals may produce less urine despite adequate fluid intake.

Swelling or Edema: Damaged kidneys may cause fluid to build up in tissues. As a result, swelling can occur in the legs, ankles, feet, face, or hands. This swelling is not only uncomfortable but can also be a sign of kidney function decline.

Fatigue and Weakness: Healthy kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin, which signals the body to make red blood cells that carry oxygen. Anemia (a shortage of red blood cells) can occur when kidneys are not functioning properly, leading to persistent fatigue and general weakness.

Sleep Issues: The buildup of waste products in the blood (uremia) can make it difficult to sleep. Some elderly individuals with kidney disease also suffer from sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Nausea and Vomiting: An accumulation of waste products can also lead to a feeling of constant nausea or episodes of vomiting, which can further reduce an elderly adult’s quality of life.

Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss: A significant reduction in appetite or unexplained weight loss can occur as food becomes less appealing, possibly due to toxins building up in the body affecting taste.

Cognitive Impairment: There is evidence to suggest that severe CKD can lead to cognitive dysfunction. Symptoms can include poor concentration, changes in personality, or decreased alertness.

Dry and Itchy Skin: Healthy kidneys help maintain the right balance of minerals and nutrients in your blood. Dry and itchy skin can be a sign of mineral and bone disease that often accompanies advanced kidney disease when the kidneys are no longer able to keep the balance of minerals and nutrients.

Importance of Regular Check-ups

Because early kidney disease symptoms can be subtle and often go unnoticed, regular check-ups are crucial. Blood and urine tests can detect markers of kidney function and are often the first steps in diagnosing kidney disease.

Early detection can lead to interventions that may preserve remaining kidney function and slow the progression of the disease.


In elderly adults, recognizing the early signs of kidney disease can be challenging due to the overlap with other common age-related conditions.

However, awareness of the specific symptoms associated with kidney dysfunction is essential for timely diagnosis and management.

Elderly individuals or their caregivers should seek medical advice if they notice any sudden or severe changes in health, especially those related to the urinary system or overall energy levels. Early intervention is key to managing kidney disease and maintaining a good quality of life.

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