How To Spot Kidney Failure in Its Early Stages

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) often goes unnoticed until it causes kidney failure. What are the warning signs of kidney failure that you should look out for?

by L.H.

The quality of healthcare and life expectancies are high in a well-developed country like Singapore. Yet that often belies serious medical conditions that can stay silent and deadly. Other than well-known conditions such as cancer or heart disease, kidney disease and kidney failure are quickly emerging as the next silent health crisis that Singaporeans need to watch out for. According to the Singapore Renal Registry’s Report, there are six new diagnoses of kidney failure every day. Clearly, this risk to ourselves and our loved ones shouldn’t be lightly ignored. Learn more about kidney failure and how you can spot it early on with this Homage guide. 

What is Kidney Failure?

The kidneys are vital organs responsible for filtering waste and excess fluids from the blood to create urine. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a progressive condition where the kidneys gradually lose their function over time. CKD is classified into five stages based on the estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR), which assesses how effectively the kidneys are filtering waste. In the early stages, there might be no apparent symptoms, and the condition can progress silently.

As CKD advances, it can lead to kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), where the kidneys can no longer carry out their critical function of filtering waste.

  • Stage 1 with normal or high GFR (GFR > 90 mL/min)
  • Stage 2 Mild CKD (GFR = 60-89 mL/min)
  • Stage 3A Moderate CKD (GFR = 45-59 mL/min)
  • Stage 3B Moderate CKD (GFR = 30-44 mL/min)
  • Stage 4 Severe CKD (GFR = 15-29 mL/min)
  • Stage 5 End Stage CKD (GFR <15 mL/min)

Common Comorbidities and Causes of Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is usually the end result of other health conditions that have damaged your kidney slowly over the years.

Several factors contribute to the development of kidney diseases. Diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) are the leading causes. Diabetes damages the small blood vessels in the kidneys, impairing their function over time. Similarly, uncontrolled hypertension can damage the blood vessels and the nephrons (the functional units of the kidneys), reducing filtration efficiency.

Other conditions like autoimmune diseases, genetic disorders, urinary tract obstructions, and certain medications can also contribute to kidney damage. It’s crucial to note that kidney diseases don’t discriminate—they can affect people of all ages and backgrounds.

Lifestyle factors that can contribute to kidney disease include smoking and drinking too much alcohol. 

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

In the early stages of kidney disease, symptoms might be subtle or absent altogether. As CKD progresses, however, symptoms become more pronounced and noticeable. 

Some common signs of kidney failure include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, and legs (edema)
  • Increased frequency of urination, especially during the night
  • Foamy or bubbly urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Muscle cramps
  • Itchy skin or rashes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of kidney diseases is crucial for several reasons:

1. It can help you to manage your condition and slow down disease progression

Detecting kidney diseases in their early stages allows for timely interventions to slow down the progression of the disease. Lifestyle modifications, medication, and dietary changes can significantly extend the lifespan of your kidneys and delay the need for more aggressive treatments like dialysis or kidney transplantation.

2. It minimises the cost of care

The financial burden of treating advanced kidney disease can be overwhelming. Dialysis, a common treatment for ESRD, requires regular visits to a medical facility and can be financially draining. Comparatively, the cost of managing early-stage kidney disease through medications, lifestyle adjustments, and regular check-ups is significantly lower.

3. It can help you to maintain your quality of life

Kidney failure can greatly affect one’s quality of life. Dialysis treatments, which become necessary when the kidneys begin to fail, can be time-consuming and physically demanding. They typically require patients to spend about 4 hours three times a week at a dialysis centre, which often lead to fatigue and a restricted diet. Early detection and management help maintain a higher quality of life, allowing individuals to continue their daily activities with fewer restrictions.

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How to Get Tested for Kidney Disease?

Regular health screenings are pivotal in the early detection of kidney disease and kidney failure. Kidney disease tests are not covered under the government’s Screen for Life National Health Screening Program. Diagnosing kidney disease, however, only requires either a simple blood or urine test. 

Here are three steps to diagnosing kidney diseases you can take.

1. Consult Your Doctor

If you have a family history of kidney disease, diabetes, or hypertension, or if you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, consult your doctor. They can recommend and schedule appropriate tests and screenings based on your medical history and current condition.

2. Blood Tests

Your doctor will likely ask you to take simple blood tests, such as serum creatinine and eGFR, which can provide valuable insights into kidney function. These tests help assess how well your kidneys are filtering waste from your blood. An eGFR value below 60 ml/min/1.73 m² for three months or more indicates kidney disease.

3. Urine Tests

After this, urine tests can detect the presence of protein or blood in the urine, which can be early indicators of kidney damage.

Here are clinics where you can get a health screening.

Conclusion

Kidney disease is a silent menace that can leave severe consequences 0n your health if left undetected and untreated. The stages of chronic kidney disease can progress unnoticed, leading to kidney failure, which has a significant impact on your quality of life and financial well-being. By understanding the signs and symptoms of kidney diseases, we can take proactive steps to protect our kidney health.

Regular health check-ups, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing underlying conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and seeking medical advice when necessary are all vital components of kidney disease prevention and early intervention.  We hope that this Homage guide has been helpful in helping you learn about kidney disease and kidney failure. 

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References
  1. ‘We’re at the brink’: Kidney disease crisis looms in Singapore as some doctors urge more action. (n.d.). CNA. Retrieved August 20, 2023, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/chronic-kidney-disease-failure-singapore-early-screening-nkf-dialysis-3620561
  2. Stages of kidney disease. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2023, from https://www.kidneyfund.org/all-about-kidneys/stages-kidney-disease
  3. Kidney failure (ESRD)—Symptoms, causes and treatment options | American Kidney Fund. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2023, from https://www.kidneyfund.org/all-about-kidneys/kidney-failure-symptoms-and-causes
About the Writer
L.H.
L.H. is a writer who guzzles coffee a little too much for his own good.
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