Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Failure

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The kidneys remove waste and extra fluid from your body and help maintain proper levels of various minerals. Without correct levels of nutrients, nerves, cells, muscles, and organs may not work properly.

When your kidney function goes below 15% of normal, it's classified as kidney failure.

Early Symptoms of Kidney Failure: red lightning bolts on a head to indicate headaches, scratching, swelling of the feet, person asleep on a laptop, an arm with pain or stiffness in the joints of the arm or hand (yellow lightning bolts to signify pain or stiffness) , a question mark on a head to show confusion or trouble with memory

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

It might be preceded by kidney disease. The symptoms that occur are typically a result of waste buildup. There are treatments for kidney failure, and your healthcare provider can go over which treatment is best for you.

This article will review the symptoms of kidney failure. Knowing what the symptoms are can help you recognize warning signs early so you can see your healthcare provider about any concerns.

Frequent Symptoms

Signs of kidney failure can vary, and sometimes it's difficult to notice them at first. Early symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling, especially in the ankles, legs, and feet
  • Daytime fatigue and trouble sleeping at night
  • Muscle cramps, weakness, or numbness
  • Little to no urinary output
  • Feeling sick to your stomach, changes in appetite and weight
  • Joint pain or stiffness
  • Confusion or memory problems

In acute kidney failure, the kidneys suddenly stop functioning within two days.

It’s not always permanent. For many people, treatment may restore a normal or near-normal function. Acute kidney failure can be caused by conditions such as a heart attack, substance use disorder, major surgery, certain cancers or diseases, and injury.

Signs of acute kidney failure can include:


Complications aren't signs of kidney failure. Rather, they're other ailments or symptoms that can occur because of the condition.

Your kidneys serve a variety of functions. When they aren’t working properly, complications can occur. Not everyone will experience complications, and for those who do, not everyone will have the same ones. Possible complications can include:

  • High blood pressure: This can be a cause and a complication. The kidneys can't get rid of extra water, which causes swelling that leads to high blood pressure.
  • Heart disease: If the kidneys aren't working as well, they can't help other organs function properly. Damaged kidneys can't regulate blood pressure, leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure makes the arteries stiffen up, leading to less blood and oxygen getting to the heart, eventually causing heart disease. High blood pressure and type 2 diabetes often overlap, with insulin resistance being a common feature of each of these conditions.
  • Anemia: Anemia is the lack of healthy red blood cells. Damaged kidneys don’t make enough erythropoietin (EPO) to make red blood cells, so organs get less oxygen.
  • Mineral and bone disorder: As kidneys lose functioning, the body is less able to absorb calcium and doesn’t remove as much phosphorus. Both cause weakening bones and/or bone or joint pain.
  • Malnutrition: As kidney failure gets worse, food may taste different, you may not feel hungry, and infections can interfere with your consumption, causing a lack of proper nutrition. A nutritionist may be beneficial.
  • Itchiness: Too much phosphorus in the blood can cause your skin to itch. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to stop excess phosphorus from food getting into your bloodstream

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you start to notice signs like changes in your urine output, brain fog, or high blood pressure, see your healthcare provider.

If you have diabetes or heart disease and start to notice symptoms like the ones mentioned above or other signs that weren’t there before (like fatigue or changes in appetite or sleep), also see your healthcare provider.

Both high blood pressure and high blood sugar can contribute to kidney disease and kidney failure. Seeing your healthcare provider early on, when you first notice symptoms, and starting treatment can make a difference in your prognosis (outlook).


Although the signs and symptoms of kidney failure may not be very noticeable at first, they're important to be aware of. The earlier your kidney failure is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can start. If you start to notice any of these symptoms, see your healthcare provider for evaluation.

A Word From Verywell

Reading about the signs and symptoms of kidney failure can be stressful or overwhelming. Keep in mind that everyone is different and may experience different symptoms. With proper diagnosis and prompt treatment and management, many of these symptoms can be successfully treated and minimized.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your kidneys & how they work.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What is kidney failure?

  3. American Kidney Fund. Kidney failure causes, symptoms, & treatments.

  4. National Kidney Foundation. Acute kidney injury (AKI).

  5. Tsimihodimos V, Gonzalez-Villalpando C, Meigs JB, Ferrannini E. Hypertension and diabetes mellitusHypertension. 2018;71(3):422-428. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.10546

  6. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Chronic kidney disease in the United States, 2021.