Skip to main content

What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease is the slow loss (over a period of months or years) of kidney function over time. The kidneys' main function is to remove waste and excess water from the body. Chronic kidney disease causes a buildup of fluid and waste products in the body. Ultimately, the disease affects most body systems and functions, including red blood cell production, blood pressure control, vitamin D and bone health. In the final stage of chronic kidney disease, known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), the kidneys cease to function. At this point, the patient needs kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.


Early symptoms of chronic kidney disease often occur in conjunction with other illnesses. These symptoms may be the only signs of chronic kidney disease until the condition reaches more advanced stages.

Symptoms of chronic kidney disease may include:

  • General ill feeling and fatigue
  • Generalized, intense itching sensation (known as pruritus) and dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea

Other chronic kidney disease symptoms may develop, especially as kidney function worsens, including:

  • Abnormally dark or light skin
  • Bone pain
  • Brain and nervous system symptoms
    • Drowsiness and confusion
    • Problems thinking or concentrating
    • Numbness in the hands, feet or other areas
    • Muscle twitching or cramps
  • Breath odor
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Low level of sexual interest and impotence
  • Menstrual periods stop (amenorrhea)
  • Sleep problems, such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea
  • Swelling of feet and hands (edema)
  • Vomiting, usually in the morning


The two most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure; together, they account for most cases.

A wide variety of other diseases and conditions can lead to kidney damage including:

  • Problems involving arteries leading to or inside the kidneys
  • Birth defects of the kidneys (such as polycystic kidney disease)
  • Various pain medications and other drugs
  • Certain toxic chemicals
  • Autoimmune disorders (such as systemic lupus erythematosus and scleroderma)
  • Injury or trauma
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Kidney stones and infection
Go to top