Kidney failure is a condition that is dreaded worldwide and can be devastating for families when a member of the family is diagnosed. It’s like the world is falling apart right before their eyes. I know because my family went through it. It’s not an experience I want to relive ever again. (The term kidney disease and/or kidney failure are used intermittently throughout but they both mean the same thing)
The kidney is a dynamic organ in the body and is mostly ignored because people do not understand its function, really. I think the same goes for kidney patients too because just like the function of the kidney is ignored so are the pain and suffering of kidney patients because most of the time, we don’t look sick, on the outside but we are.
KIDNEY FUNCTION IN THE BODY
The kidneys filter any harmful wastes and toxins in the body as well as any excess fluid while balancing blood and essential nutrients. They also remove chemicals and waste from the digestion process and other processes in the body, stimulates vitamin D to keep the bones healthy as well as increase the number of the red blood cells that delivers oxygen throughout the body.
It only becomes really obvious, the function of the kidney when one loses it and has to go on fluid and food restrictions, depending on what stage of their kidney disease journey they are on.
In the western world where people have family doctors, GP’s (General Practitioners) as they are called in the UK, it is fairly easy to identify the early signs in most cases. Some of them go unnoticed and diagnosed for years.
I remember a funny story, a lady told me while in the recovery ward in the hospital. A woman in my ward, let’s call her Christy, as I cannot use her name, (for data protection reasons), she had lived with kidney failure for years without knowing she had it.
Christy had taken her dogs for a walk one evening, the next thing she knew, she woke up in an ambulance and they were taking her to a hospital. She asked what had happened and they told her she had collapsed and she had to go to the hospital. That was the last time she saw her dogs for more than 5 weeks on admission.
Unlike me, her kidneys had been deteriorating for a long time. She didn’t know about it and her kidney had been taking the abuse; she had functioned on just a small percentage of her kidney function. In my case, I had a traumatic experience, sudden miscarriage, read my story, which led to Chronic Kidney Disease. Some people might live a long time with kidney failure and never progress to chronic kidney failure. This is because the kidney can take the abuse meted to it before it finally gives up, from working too hard.
CAUSES OF KIDNEY FAILURE
What causes kidney failure? There are different reasons people experience kidney failure. This can happen for a myriad of reasons but I am going to talk about the most important ones here. They are so many that I won’t be able to talk about all of them in this article. (If your story is different, please leave a comment and tell us about your amazing journey).
The main culprits for kidney failure will really surprise many reading this article except they experienced it already.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE:
I guess nobody was expecting that. High blood pressure is the most common cause or reason for kidney failure. The next question is how this affects the body. Uncontrolled High Blood pressure coupled with other factors like too much sodium (salt or salty foods like sausages, crisps etc) work together, ensuring the kidney is slowly overworked until it can take no more and pack up. Usually, high blood pressure is identified, when your doctor sees you for a check-up and your blood pressure is measured, this should ‘red flag’ this issue. This ‘red flag’ will cause the doctor to either run further tests or prescribe blood pressure tablets for you.
URINARY TRACT INFECTION:
Popularly known as UTI, it affects both men and women but is most common in women. Several, persistent, uncontrolled UTIs can cause damage to the kidneys over time. It is important that once you feel pain whilst passing urine and suspect a UTI, you must go to a doctor for tests and medication for immediate treatment. In my case, the doctors suggested it as a possible remote reason because I suffered UTIs in my youth. My case was special, there were suspected contributory factors but it couldn’t be proven because it was years ago but the immediate cause was multiple organ failure.
I was lucky I never and still don’t suffer from diabetes, only because of my needle phobia as most Africans do. Diabetes is one of the main causes of kidney failure or disease because of the blood sugar levels in the blood.
In some cases, it is hereditary like in a family’s genes like polycystic kidney disease which is an autoimmune disease. This is when the kidney has a lot of holes in it that it looks like a sponge and feels squishy. The person finds it difficult to do anything as they are always exhausted and want to lie down all the time,
There are other causes or reason why one can be diagnosed with kidney disease like medication abuse, maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle like drinking, smoking, lack of exercise and a poor diet. All these can contribute to the kidneys failing. As I said earlier in the article, the kidney can take ever so much before it decides to ‘give up the ghost’. You would do well to look after them very well whilst you still have the chance especially if they are not too far gone. You can nurse them back to life again. They are that versatile.
EARLY SYMPTOMS OF KIDNEY FAILURE
How do you identify early signs of kidney failure? We do take our kidneys for granted and they do “give us a lot of rope to hang ourselves”, however, when the symptoms seem to appear, they don’t always appear like kidney disease failure so could be ignored as something else.
How do you recognise the early signs of kidney failure?
These are the signs to identify early onset of kidney failure. They should give you an idea of what to expect. They should also help you ask questions of your doctor when they diagnose you with kidney disease. Questions to ask will be in my next post.
- Your urine changes colour (it looks dark yellowish so like you’ve not been drinking enough water). You can see blood in the urine and also notice the frequency of urination changes.
- Tiredness or fatigue is another symptom. You feel tired all the time. Where you would normally have walked like 3 miles, you find even 15 metres is like running the marathon.
- Most people will have interrupted sleep. You might find it very hard to stay asleep.
- You will find it harder to enjoy your food because either you have no appetite; or find you always have a metallic taste in your mouth so makes all the food taste awful.
- You will definitely have swollen ankles or feet because the kidneys have started deteriorating so are not able to flush or get rid of excess fluid in the body as quickly as they used to.
OTHERS TO CONSIDER
- Cramps and intermittent muscle pain or pain where the kidneys are. These are particularly uncomfortable and can make you feel really rotten
- Itching is one symptom I really hated. I scratched myself almost raw but my itching started later. In the earlier stages of kidney failure, this is one of the signs to recognise that your kidneys are failing.
- Short-term memory loss is another symptom in the early onset of kidney failure. However, I’m not sure why it last this long. My disease was sudden and not gradual like most people. I still suffer from short-term memory loss today. You lose focus from what you intend to do and will have to try to remember what you were thinking. Sometimes, you remember, other times, you don’t. It’s a lottery each time.
- Wild and unsteady blood pressure which is a good sign of what is coming.
- The desire to throw up or vomit and queasiness. This can be very uncomfortable for you because every smell makes you feel nauseous.
These are the common signs to watch out for. If spotted, it is advisable to quickly look for a remedy before it becomes severe kidney disease. If not treated quickly, it would mean going on dialysis. Now, that will be unfortunate because, as earlier mentioned, most Africans have a needle phobia and the experience isn’t pleasant.
These symptoms are only a guide and but if you are worried, please see a doctor. There’s no harm in having a check-up to make sure that everything is fine.