Who should get tested for kidney disease?

Experts suspect there are about a million people with moderate to severe kidney disease who are unaware that they have the condition. A quick simple test is available from your GP.

Kidney disease usually has no symptoms until it's at a serious stage. "You can have quite serious kidney disease and feel absolutely fine," says Timothy Statham, chief executive of the National Kidney Federation (NKF). "You often don't know you have kidney damage until your kidneys have deteriorated to working at just 15% of their normal function."

Although early kidney disease displays no symptoms, it's easy for doctors to detect it. A routine blood test and urine test (to check for protein in the urine) can check whether your kidneys are working properly.

Why have a kidney test?

Everyone who is at high risk should have a test for kidney disease every year.

If you are at risk of kidney disease, your doctor should discuss with you how often you should be tested. If you have kidney disease, it's better to identify it when the disease is still at an early stage. 

This is important because:

  • Treatment of mild to moderate kidney disease with changes in lifestyle and medicines can slow down kidney damage and delay the need for kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.
  • Earlier diagnosis of advanced kidney disease improves the success rate of dialysis and transplant.
  • Early detection and treatment of kidney disease lessens the chance of it leading to heart disease.
  • Kidney disease is common, and it's affecting more and more people. The number of people receiving treatment with dialysis or kidney transplant in the UK is increasing by about 2,000 a year.
  • Kidney disease increases your risk of acute kidney injury. Acute kidney injury involves sudden damage to the kidneys that causes them to stop working properly.

Who needs a kidney test?

You are most at risk of kidney disease if you have diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension), or if you have a close relative with kidney disease.

The chances of developing kidney disease increase as you get older. You're also more likely to develop kidney disease if you're male and if you're black or south Asian.

Read more about testing for kidney disease if you're black or south Asian.

Visit your GP for a kidney test if you have:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • blood or protein in your urine with no known cause
  • cardiovascular disease (conditions that affect the heart, arteries and veins, such as coronary heart disease or stroke)
  • heart failure
  • kidney stones
  • an enlarged prostate
  • a close relative with kidney disease
  • if you are prescribed certain medicines known to cause kidney problems, including lithium or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen

Kidney symptoms to look out for

It's also important to see your doctor for a kidney test if you already have symptoms of kidney disease. These include:

  • producing more or less urine than usual
  • feeling more tired than usual
  • loss of appetite
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling generally unwell for more than a few days

Read more about what's involved in having a test for kidney disease.

Page last reviewed: 20/03/2015

Next review due: 20/03/2017

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