What is kidney disease? An overview

What is kidney disease? An overview

The term kidney disease is very wide and refers to any disease, disorder, or condition that interferes with the kidneys’ function. The proper functioning of our kidneys is necessary to maintain our overall health. Unfortunately, due to the complex structure of the kidneys and the urinary system, there are different conditions and diseases that can affect their function.

kidney disease

What is the Kidney Disease?

It can be acute or chronic according to the time that has elapsed since the damage on the kidney occurred. In fact, if acute kidney failure is not treated on time, it usually evolves to chronic kidney disease. For its part, chronic kidney disease damages the nephrons slowly over the years, to finally cause chronic renal failure.

Many kidneys diseases have their origin in the nephron, which is considered the functional units in the kidneys. So, any minimal damage to these structures can alter the functioning of the kidneys, even up to leave them unable to remove the waste substances of our body. If you want to know more about nephron functions and parts, we invite you to read our article “how the kidneys function”.

There are different genetic conditions, injuries, and even medicines that can cause damage to the nephrons. Likewise, some systemic diseases like Diabetes Mellitus and Hypertension increase your chances of developing a kidney disease for damage or deterioration of the nephrons.

What are the symptoms of the Kidneys Diseases?

As many conditions can cause kidney disease, the symptoms are very varied and nonspecific. For example, the presence of blood in the urine, foamy urine/presence of proteins in the urine, kidney pain/back pain, increase/decrease in the amount of urine that is produced in a day, alterations in the ability to concentrate/dilute urine. The presence of proteins in the urine is one of the earliest signs of kidney disease.

In normal situations, the kidneys prevent a protein called albumin from being lost in the urine. Only when the “tiny filters” of the kidneys get damaged, the albumin reaches the urine and is eliminated. However, it is very important to highlight that the other symptoms are not specific to kidney disease. For example, the presence of blood in the urine can also be due to problems in other parts of the urinary system like the ureters or bladder.

Kidney pain/back pain is also a very nonspecific symptom because it can occur due to kidney problems, muscular contractures, lumbar hernias, among others.

How to differentiate kidney pain from back pain?

Due to the location of the kidneys, kidney pain and back pain are usually very difficult to differentiate, but there are some characteristics that can help us to lean towards one of them. For example, kidney pain usually has “a different location” than muscular back pain. Kidney pain is usually located in the flank, an area on either side of the spine between the bottom of the ribcage and upper part of the hips, while the back pain usually is located in the lowest area of the back immediately next to the spine.

kidney and back pain

Many people also say that kidney pain is “deeper” than back pain. This makes sense since the muscles are more superficial than the kidneys. On the other hand, kidney pain is usually continuous or colic type and does not go away without treatment, while back pain is triggered by movement many of the times.

Likewise, kidney pain usually radiates (spread) to the inner part of your thighs or the abdomen, while back pain is usually felt only in the part of the affected muscle or the site where the vertebral hernia is located. Finally, kidney pain is usually accompanied with other symptoms, like fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, pain while urinating, blood in the urine, among others.

What are the most common causes of Kidney pain?

Among the most common causes of kidney pain, urinary tract infections that ascend to the kidney and kidney stones can be included. Kidney stones or renal lithiasis are small and hard crystals that build up inside the kidneys. When these stones move or pass out through the ureters you can feel pain.

The kidney and urinary tract infections (UTI) are caused by an abnormal accumulation of bacteria in the urinary tract. Both kidney stones and UTI can affect one or both kidneys and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, painful urination, flank pain, nausea and vomiting.

Severe trauma (both penetrating and blunt), dehydration, kidney cysts, polycystic kidney disease, glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation) renal vein thrombosis (blockage of blood to the kidney) kidney cancer and hydronephrosis (the swelling of the kidney due to a build-up of urine) are less frequent causes of kidney pain.

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Author: Dr.Aurelysmar GrimandecollantesDr.Aurelysmar is 29 years old MD and medical writer. Medical degree from the Universidad Centroccidental "Lisandro Alvarado", Venezuela, 2014. Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety, Venezuela, 2015. Course: Specialized Health Training for Physicians, Spain, 2017.