Q: What are the signs of kidney disease?

A: Symptoms of kidney disease may vary from person to person but are often hard to detect. It is not uncommon for patients to experience swelling of the feet and ankles, blood or protein (indicated by foam) in the urine, and waking to urinate several times during the night.

Determining your kidney function often means undergoing a urinalysis screening, a blood-pressure check, and a physical exam. If the urinalysis comes back abnormal, a blood test will follow.

Located behind the abdomen under the rib cage, the kidneys are responsible for filtering blood, removing various toxins, adjusting electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, and controlling the acid level of your blood. Toxins and electrolytes filtered by your kidneys are then excreted in your urine.

Kidney problems are found equally in men and women. They are commonly associated with morbid obesity, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and diabetes. Smoking and using drugs such as cocaine can also contribute to poor kidney function. Surprisingly, alcohol does not cause kidney disease - unless there is severe liver damage first.

Because kidney disease can develop at any age, controlling blood pressure when you are young can contribute to healthy kidney function later. It is also important to know whether close relatives have suffered from kidney disease, as it can be hereditary. If it runs in your family, see your doctor regularly to check your blood pressure and have urinalysis and blood tests done.

Catching kidney disease early helps determine treatment and predicts more successful management of the condition. - Dr. Jay Hubsher

Jay Hubsher, M.D., is a nephrologist at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital.