Kidney failure often causes urinary changes, swelling, and confusion. More severe symptoms may include shortness of breath, seizures, and coma.

Kidney failure — when your kidneys can no longer function effectively — can be due to advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) or an acute kidney injury (AKI).

If your kidneys can no longer filter your blood, waste products can build up, causing significant symptoms.

It’s possible to have CKD and not know it until you have advanced disease and kidney failure symptoms. Without medical treatment, kidney failure can lead to death.

Read on to learn about the signs and symptoms of kidney failure.

You have two kidneys, each containing around 1 million nephrons. Each nephron houses a filtering unit, called a glomerulus, comprised of tiny blood vessels.

The glomeruli filter toxins, acid, and excess fluid from the blood. When your kidneys are healthy, these waste products exit the body in urine.

Kidney disease causes damage to nephrons and glomeruli, making it harder for them to function.

With CKD, you may feel an increased need to urinate, especially at night. You may also notice:

Once you’re in kidney failure, you may produce less urine or none at all.

Decreased kidney filtration can lead to fluid overload. This can cause swelling in your legs, abdomen, and other areas if severe enough. It can also cause pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in your lungs.

Swelling may also be due to nephrotic syndrome. This happens when damage to the nephrons in your kidneys allows too much albumin (a circulating protein) to leave your blood and pass into your urine.

Nephrotic syndrome causes edema (swelling), particularly in the feet, ankles, and legs. You may also have swelling in the arms and around the eyes.

Fluid overload and pulmonary edema in people with kidney failure can lead to dyspnea (shortness of breath).

Research also links kidney failure to heart failure, which can worsen fluid overload and dyspnea.

Fatigue may be a CKD symptom long before the condition progresses to kidney failure. But since fatigue can be due to many conditions, doctors don’t often associate it with kidney disease during its early stages.

It’s not entirely clear why kidney disease causes fatigue. Experts think the buildup of toxins and impurities in the blood may sap your body of energy, causing weakness and exhaustion.

If your kidneys are no longer working, bodily waste, electrolytes, and fluids build up in your body. This causes abdominal symptoms such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite

Research suggests that both CKD and AKI can affect your brain.

Adults and children with kidney failure are at risk of cognitive deficits, especially in the area of executive function. This can cause difficulties with emotion regulation, impulse management, and the ability to focus.

The underlying reasons behind the effect of kidney failure on the brain aren’t completely clear. Experts think the combined effects of high blood pressure, anemia, and substance buildup in the blood (uremia) cause this effect.

With kidney failure, uremia can lead to uremic encephalopathy, a brain disorder. Symptoms of uremic encephalopathy include:

Kidney failure can cause an electrolyte balance by disrupting your body’s natural balance of fluid and electrolytes like:

Electrolyte imbalance negatively affects your nervous system’s ability to function.

Nerve impulses (communications) between your brain and other parts of your body, including muscles, become impaired. Muscle cramps are a common result.

What are the first signs of kidney problems?

Early symptoms vary and may start out subtly. They include:

  • fatigue
  • trouble sleeping
  • dry or itchy skin
  • swelling or puffiness around the eyes
  • swollen feet or ankles
  • changes in urination, including frequency, urge, and foamy or bloody urine
  • muscles cramps

Can a person with kidney failure survive?

You can survive with kidney failure, provided you receive appropriate treatment.

Acute kidney failure typically resolves upon successful treatment of the underlying condition.

Chronic kidney failure isn’t curable but can be successfully treated long term with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

What color is your pee when your kidneys are failing?

You may urinate very little when you’re in kidney failure. The urine you do produce will contain excess proteins, toxins, and blood, causing it to look darker than usual. It may even take on a brown or red appearance.

Kidney disease may not cause noticeable symptoms until its later stages when your kidney function is severely reduced. Symptoms of kidney failure typically include swelling, urinary changes, and extreme fatigue.

Kidney failure is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. If you have or think you might have CKD or AKI and notice new or worsening symptoms, do not hesitate to get medical attention immediately.