From time to time, your skin may act up for a range of reasons—cold weather, irritants, or allergens, to name just a few. But in rarer cases, your skin symptoms could point to serious underlying causes, some of which could be linked to your kidneys. Experts say there are several ways that kidney problems can manifest as skin symptoms—and some of them may surprise you. Read on to learn the five ways your skin is telling you your kidneys are in trouble, and which conditions they may indicate.
READ THIS NEXT: If Your Food Tastes Like This, Get Your Kidneys Checked.
According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), having dry or itchy skin is a common sign of advanced kidney disease. If you experience this symptom, you may notice that your skin becomes rough, scaly, cracked, and uncomfortable.
“Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They remove wastes and extra fluid from your body, help make red blood cells, help keep bones strong and work to maintain the right amount of minerals in your blood,” NKF experts explain. “Dry and itchy skin can be a sign of the mineral and bone disease that often accompanies advanced kidney disease, when the kidneys are no longer able to keep the right balance of minerals and nutrients in your blood.”
If you notice changes in skin color, this can also be a symptom of chronic kidney disease. “The buildup of toxins in your body, when your kidneys aren’t filtering your blood as they should, can cause color changes to your skin,” explains Fresenius Kidney Care. “You may notice a gray or yellow hue to your skin, areas of darkened skin, or an unhealthy pale tone. If you’ve had itchy skin for a long time and scratch often, you may also see yellowish, thick skin with bumps or cysts.”
Swelling (edema) is another common symptom of kidney disease, since the kidneys are responsible for removing extra fluids and salt from the body. When they’re functioning poorly, fluid can build up in the body, causing swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face, or hands.
Many people with kidney problems will experience swelling or puffiness around the eyes. “If your eyes are consistently swollen, especially in the morning, take note,” warns the National Kidney Foundation.
Rashes and blisters on the skin are another known sign of advanced kidney disease. “When kidneys cannot remove waste from your body, a rash can develop,” explains the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). “One rash that occurs in people who have end-stage kidney disease causes small, dome-shaped, and extremely itchy bumps. As these bumps clear, new ones can form. Sometimes, the small bumps join together to form rough, raised patches.”
They add that some patients with end-stage kidney disease may also develop blisters on the hands, face, or feet. “The blisters will open, dry up, and crust over. As they clear, scars appear,” AAD experts explain.
Sometimes kidney patients will also develop calcium deposits under the skin—most typically near a joint in the elbows, knees, or fingers. “Your kidneys have several jobs. One is to balance certain minerals in your blood, such as sodium and phosphate. When the kidneys cannot maintain a healthy balance, levels can rise. Some people develop deposits of calcium in their skin,” explains the AAD.
If you notice this or any other suspicious skin symptoms, bring them to your doctor’s attention and consider discussing a kidney screening.