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Kidney problems

Find out about kidney problems, such as kidney cancer and kidney disease, and what causes them.

The number of people with serious kidney problems, such as kidney disease and kidney cancer, is increasing.

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 control blood pressure, boost the production of red blood cells and keep bones healthy. This means that severe kidney damage can lead to high blood pressure, anaemia and bone disease.

What can go wrong with the kidneys?

The main kidney problems are:

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

Kidney infections

Kidney infections are usually the result of bacteria in the bladder travelling up to the kidneys. They can cause:

  • lower back or genital pain
  • pain when peeing
  • blood in your pee
  • cloudy and smelly pee
  • feeling feverish, shivery or sick

These types of infections are more common in women. They can usually be successfully treated with antibiotic tablets and painkillers.

Read more about kidney infections.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are crystals that form from waste products in the blood. They can develop in one or both kidneys.

Kidney stones can range from the size of a grain of sand to a golf ball. Small stones are usually passed out in your pee, but larger ones may need to be broken up using ultrasound or removed using surgery. 

Although they don't usually cause serious problems, kidney stones can be very painful. They 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 your groin.

Read more about kidney stones.

Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK.

It may not cause any obvious symptoms at first and might only be picked up during tests carried out for another reason.

If symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • blood in your pee
  • persistent pain in your lower back or side, just below your ribs
  • a lump or swelling in your side (although kidney cancer is often too small to feel)

Treatments for kidney cancer include surgery, cryotherapy and radiotherapy, although the treatment depends on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure, and not smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of getting kidney cancer. 

Read more about kidney cancer.

Kidney disease

Kidney disease (also known as chronic kidney disease) is a long-term condition where the kidneys don't work as well as they should.

There are usually no symptoms of kidney disease in the early stages. When it reaches a more advanced stage, symptoms can include:

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

A small number of people with severe kidney disease develop life-threatening kidney failure, requiring treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

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 often a complication of another serious illness. It's usually seen in older people (65 or over) who are already unwell with other conditions. 

Read more about acute kidney injury.

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