How Doctors Diagnose Kidney Disease

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doctor-holding-up-model-of-a-kidney
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The kidneys adapt as they start to lose function. This means people with early stage kidney disease might not have any warning signs of their condition. The results of a routine blood test may be the first thing to alert your doctor to a potential problem.

Your doctor will rely on several things to diagnose kidney disease:

  • Your personal risk factors

  • Your medical history

  • Your family's health history

  • Your symptoms

  • Results of blood, urine and other tests

Risk Factors and Medical History

Your risk of kidney disease increases as you age. Having diabetes or high blood pressure also raises your risk. So does having close relatives who've had kidney failure.

Other conditions that could affect your kidneys include:

If you have any of these risk factors, your doctor may routinely screen you for kidney disease. That lets your doctor find it as early as possible and slow down its progress.

Symptoms

Often one of the first symptoms people have is swelling or a buildup of fluid in the body.  This is edema. The swelling may be most obvious in your feet and ankles.

You may develop other symptoms as kidney disease gets worse:

Tests for Kidney Disease

Doctors use certain tests to confirm kidney disease and find its cause. Testing may include:

  • Blood tests: A lab will check your blood sample for levels of waste products like creatinine and urea. These build up in the blood when your kidneys aren't working right. Your blood test results also can help your doctor calculate your glomerular filtration rate. This reveals how much blood your kidneys filter each minute. That's the best way to tell how well they're working.

  • Urine tests: A dipstick is a strip of chemically treated paper. When dipped into a urine sample, it shows how much albumin (a protein) is in your urine. The constant presence of protein in your urine is a sign that your kidneys aren’t working like they should. There's also a more precise test: the ACR. It measures the albumin-to-creatinine ratio in your urine.

  • Imaging tests: You may have an ultrasound or CT scan to check the shape and size of your kidneys and urinary tract. Images from these tests can show any blockages caused by a kidney stone. They also can show if you have a tumor or other health issues.

  • Biopsy: For this test, your doctor uses a long, thin needle to remove a sample of your kidney tissue. You get local anesthesia for the test so you don’t feel it. Experts then examine the tissue sample in a lab under a microscope to look for what may be causing your kidney problem.

Other conditions can cause the signs and symptoms of decreased kidney function. That’s why it’s important to seek professional medical care for an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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