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Canadian Med Center

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease

Wednesday 13 March 2024
Chronic Kidney Disease
9 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

II. Early Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

III. Stage 3 of Chronic Kidney Disease

IV. Late Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

V. Conclusion

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) often goes unnoticed, slowly damaging the kidneys over time. Recognizing the symptoms associated with each stage of CKD is vital for early detection and intervention. The sooner CKD is diagnosed, the sooner steps can be taken to preserve remaining kidney function and manage your health.

This article explores the various stages of CKD, their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs in your lower back that filter waste and excess fluid from your bloodstream. Inside each kidney are millions of tiny structures called nephrons that act as mini filters, removing waste and excess water from your blood to produce urine. In addition to removing waste, your kidneys release hormones that regulate blood pressure and stimulate red blood cell production. [1]

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) refers to long-term damage to the kidneys that gradually reduces their ability to function properly. When the kidneys are damaged, waste builds up in the blood instead of being filtered out, which can lead to health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease. [1]

CKD is categorized into five stages based on the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) test, which measures how well your kidneys filter waste from the blood. As CKD progresses through the stages, kidney function decreases. [2]

  • Stage 1 CKD: The kidneys show mild damage but still work well. You may have no symptoms, though protein in the urine or signs of kidney damage could be present.
  • Stage 2 CKD: The kidneys have mild damage, but function largely remains normal. Again, there may be no symptoms, but protein in the urine or physical kidney damage is possible.
  • Stage 3 CKD: The kidneys have moderate damage, and waste builds up in the body, potentially causing high blood pressure, bone disease, fatigue, swelling, and weakness.
  • Stage 4 CKD: The kidneys have significant damage, and waste accumulates, leading to issues such as high blood pressure, bone disease, and heart disease. Swelling, pain, and other symptoms are likely.
  • Stage 5 CKD: The kidneys are severely damaged or have failed. Waste products build up in the body, causing severe illness. Treatment options at this stage include dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. [2]

Early Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

In the early stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD), the kidneys can still function relatively well despite some damage. Identifying CKD in these early stages provides an opportunity to slow the progression of kidney disease through lifestyle changes and treatment. [3]

  • Stage 1 CKD means your kidney filtration rate is normal, but proteins are leaking into your urine (called proteinuria). This proteinuria signals your kidneys' filtering units are stressed. [3]
  • Stage 2 CKD means your kidney filtration rate has dipped slightly below the normal range. It's still adequate to filter waste from your blood, so you may not have symptoms. However, the decreasing filtration rate indicates your kidneys are losing their ability to function properly. [4]


The early stages of chronic kidney disease often have no obvious symptoms. Many people with Stage 1 or 2 CKD feel normal and do not realize there is any damage to their kidneys. However, some possible signs of early kidney disease include: [3]

  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling in your hands and feet
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Protein or blood in your urine
  • Kidney damage that shows up in an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or kidney biopsy [3]

The good news is that catching CKD in stages 1 or 2 allows time to slow or stop the progression of kidney disease through lifestyle changes and medical management. Monitoring symptoms and getting checked regularly can help detect early kidney damage before it advances too far. [3]


The early stages of chronic kidney disease often have no symptoms. But if kidney problems run in your family or you have other health issues like diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor may check how well your kidneys are working. This allows early detection and treatment of kidney disease. [4]

Doctors use several tests to evaluate kidney health and look for signs of CKD:

  • Urine tests to check for increased protein levels
  • eGFR blood tests, which check how well your kidneys are functioning
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Imaging tests for your kidneys (ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs) [4]


If you have stage 1 or 2 chronic kidney disease (CKD), treatment will focus on slowing the progression of kidney damage and preserving kidney function for as long as possible. Here are some key aspects of early-stage CKD treatment:

  • Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes: Work closely with your doctor to keep your A1C consistently in the target range through medications, diet, exercise, and regular monitoring. This can significantly slow the rate of decline in kidney function.
  • Evaluate your medications: Your doctor may recommend medications to help protect your kidneys. In some cases, adjusting or stopping certain medications may be better for preserving kidney function. [4]

Stage 3 of Chronic Kidney Disease

a man experiencing kidney pain

Stage 3 of chronic kidney disease is a middle stage where the kidneys have mild to moderate damage. At this point, the kidneys are still working well enough that dialysis or a transplant are not needed, but the damage means they have a harder time filtering waste and fluid from the blood. [5]

Stage 3 CKD is divided into two subgroups based on your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR):

  • Stage 3a: eGFR between 45 and 59
  • Stage 3b: eGFR between 30 and 44 [5]

The good news is that Stage 3 offers a critical window where you can work with your healthcare provider to protect your remaining kidney function. [5]


For many people with chronic kidney disease, Stage 3 is when their condition really starts to affect their health and quality of life. While some people with Stage 3 CKD have no symptoms, others may begin noticing changes like:

  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Swelling in hands or feet
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Changes in urination frequency
  • Urine that is foamy or dark [5]


Many people first discover they have CKD when they've reached Stage 3, as this is often when symptoms first appear. To determine if kidney disease is present, your doctor may use several diagnostic tools:

  • eGFR blood tests,which measure how well your kidneys filter waste from your blood
  • Urine tests to check for protein
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Imaging tests to look at your kidneys (ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs)
  • Kidney biopsy
  • Genetic testing [5]


Treatment for Stage 3 CKD primarily focuses on managing symptoms and addressing other health issues that may arise due to kidney disease. Doctors use various medications to alleviate symptoms and slow down the progression of kidney damage.

  • Blood pressure medications: Drugs like ACE inhibitors and ARBs help relax the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. This takes some of the strain off the kidneys and can help slow the progression of CKD. [5]
  • Diabetes medications to keep your blood sugar levels under control: Medications like Jardiance are specifically approved for treating both CKD and type 2 diabetes. Controlling blood sugar is crucial for kidney health. [5] [6]
  • Supplements like calcium and vitamin D keep your bones strong and prevent weakening, which is a common effect of CKD. [5]
  • Diuretics can help reduce swelling in your body caused by excess fluid buildup. [5]

You may need to stop taking some over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs for pain that can damage your kidneys further. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications you are on, including supplements, so they can determine if any changes need to be made. [5]

Late Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

a man undergoing dialysis

The late stages of chronic kidney disease are classified as stages 4 and 5. These are critical periods where kidney function has declined significantly, and waste products can accumulate to dangerous levels in the body. [7]

  • In Stage 4 CKD, the kidneys are moderately to severely damaged with an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) of 15 to 29. This stage indicates that the kidneys are not adequately filtering blood and removing waste. Medical intervention is often required to slow further progression. [7]
  • In Stage 5 CKD, the kidneys are failing or have failed completely, with an eGFR below 15. This end-stage renal disease means the kidneys can no longer filter blood sufficiently to sustain life. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, stage 5 CKD leads to life-threatening complications. [8]

As kidney function declines in stages 4 and 5, various waste products can build up in the blood. This may lead to issues like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Bone disease
  • Heart disease
  • High potassium
  • High phosphorus
  • Metabolic acidosis (a buildup of acid in your body) [7]


CKD can cause a wide range of symptoms that often get worse as the condition progresses. In stage 4 chronic kidney disease (CKD), you may start to experience more noticeable signs that your kidneys are not working properly.

  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Swelling in your arms or legs
  • Changes in urination frequency
  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling less hungry than usual [7]

In stage 5 CKD, your kidneys are severely damaged. At this point, you may experience more severe symptoms:

  • Making little to no urine
  • Headaches
  • Trouble breathing
  • Changes in your skin color [8]


Once your kidneys have progressed to stage 4 or 5 chronic kidney disease, you will need specialized care from a nephrologist, a doctor who specializes in kidney health. Your nephrologist will examine your kidney function and overall health to determine if your kidneys are nearing failure and if more intense treatment needs to begin. If treatment is needed, your doctor will discuss the options with you, which include dialysis or a kidney transplant. [7]

  • Dialysis is a treatment that cleanses blood when the kidneys can no longer effectively filter waste and excess fluid. Your blood is cycled through a machine that removes waste products and excess fluid before returning clean blood to your body. [9]
  • A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure that places a healthy kidney from a living or deceased donor into your body to take over the work of your failed kidneys. [10]

Unfortunately, the damage to your kidneys at this advanced stage cannot be reversed. However, with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, further progression can be slowed, and your quality of life can be maintained. [7]


Chronic kidney disease is a serious medical condition that requires early diagnosis and proper management. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of CKD at different stages is critical for timely intervention and better health outcomes.

For more information on this condition, visit our chronic kidney disease blog for more details.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.