Kidney problems

Kidney problems are common. And the number of people with serious kidney problems, such as kidney disease and kidney cancer, is increasing.

Who's at risk of kidney disease?

In many cases, the cause of chronic kidney disease isn’t clear, but it’s more common in people who have:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • vascular disease (narrowing of the kidney’s blood vessels)
  • heart problems
  • a history of other types of kidney problems, such as kidney infections and kidney stones

Kidneys are vital organs that remove excess water and cleanse the blood of toxins. When the kidneys fail, waste products and fluid build up in the body, making you feel unwell, gain weight, become breathless, and get swollen hands and feet.

The kidneys also produce hormones that help to control blood pressure, boost the production of red blood cells and help keep bones healthy. This means that if kidney damage is severe it can lead to high blood pressure, anaemia and bone disease.

What can go wrong with the kidneys?

The main kidney complaints are:

  • kidney infections
  • kidney stones
  • kidney cancer
  • kidney disease
  • acute kidney injury

Kidney infections

These usually happen when bacteria in the bladder travel up to the kidneys. They can cause pain in the lower back and when passing urine, blood in the urine, cloudy and smelly urine, and fever. Kidney infections are more common in women. They can usually be cleared up with a course of antibiotic tablets.

Read more about kidney infections.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are lumps of crystals that can develop in one or both kidneys. They vary from the size of a grain of sand to a golf ball. Small ones generally pass out with the urine. Although they don't cause any serious problems, this can be very painful, especially for men. Bigger stones can get stuck in the kidney or block the ureter (the tube from the kidneys to the bladder). This causes intense pain in the back or side of your abdomen, which may spread into the groin.

Read more about kidney stones.

Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is the eighth most common cancer in adults in the UK. The number of people in the UK diagnosed every year has risen by almost a third in the last 10 years. This may be due to the rise in obesity.

Read more about kidney cancer.

Kidney disease

Kidney disease (also known as chronic kidney disease) is a term used by doctors to include any abnormality of the kidneys, even if there is only very slight damage. ‘Chronic’ simply means a condition that does not get completely better.

Most people with kidney disease have a mild form of the disease. However, kidney disease still puts them at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and stroke

A small but significant number of people with kidney disease develop life-threatening kidney failure, requiring treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant. As with kidney cancer, kidney disease is on the increase in the UK, probably because of the rise in diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.  

Read more about kidney disease.

Acute kidney injury

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is sudden damage to the kidneys that causes them to stop working properly. It can range from minor loss of kidney function to complete kidney failure. 

AKI is common and normally happens as a complication of another serious illness. This type of kidney damage is usually seen in older people who are unwell enough to be admitted to hospital. 

Read more about acute kidney injury.

Page last reviewed: 20/03/2015

Next review due: 20/03/2017

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