People are born with two kidneys. Each is about the size of a fist, and they're on both sides of your spine at the bottom of your rib cage. Together they weigh about 10 to 12 ounces. When your body uses the food you eat and the liquids you drink, there are waste products that your kidneys filter out as urine.

When your kidneys are healthy, they keep your whole system in balance. They stimulate your body to make red blood cells. They release hormones that help to regulate growth and blood pressure, and they help to keep your bones healthy.

Usually, you don't have to worry about any of this. But when your kidneys become damaged or diseased, then it's a different story. In people with kidney (renal) disease, waste products and fluids build up, causing damage to other systems in the body.

At University of Maryland Medical Center, our team of nephrologists treats kidney disease at all stages from managing early renal insufficiency before complications can develop to dialysis for kidney failure and finally kidney transplants.

Symptoms of Kidney Disease

If you have kidney disease you may feel weak, tired or sick to your stomach. You may lose your appetite, feel irritable or have trouble thinking clearly. Or, it is possible that your kidneys may stop working so slowly that you won't notice any of these symptoms.

That is why it is important to visit your doctor regularly and be aware of the symptoms of renal disease. Contact your physician immediately if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Swelling of parts of the body, particularly eyes, ankles or wrists
  • Burning or abnormal discharge during urination
  • Changes in the frequency of urination, especially at night
  • Lower back pain
  • Bloody, foamy or coffee-colored urine
  • High blood pressure

Diagnosing Kidney Disease

People at higher risk for kidney disease include those who:

Your doctor can determine if your kidneys are diseased or damaged in two basic ways:

  • Estimating the glomerular (or kidney) filtration rate
  • Screening of the urine for protein or albumin

These tests can be done with a simple blood draw and urine sample.

Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

There are five stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD), which are based on glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Your GFR is calculated from your blood creatinine (a substance found in blood, urine and muscle tissue), age, race and gender.

Stage 1: GFR equal to or more than 90 indicates there may be slight renal damage with normal or increased GFR.

Stage 2: GFR 60-89 indicates a mild decrease in kidney function.

Stage 3: GFR 30-59 indicates a moderate decrease in kidney function.

Stage 4: GFR 15-29 indicates a severe decrease in renal function

Stage 5: GFR less than 15 is kidney failure. Dialysis or transplant is the necessary form of treatment.