Your kidneys have an important job to do: Without them, your body wouldn’t be unable to remove waste and excess fluids, a crucial part of keeping the right amount of minerals in your bloodstream. This can pose a serious problem for those with decreased kidney function, since irregular mineral levels can wreak havoc on various parts of the body. In fact, studies show there’s one place where you may discover this problem in the form of a mysterious pain or stiffness due to a buildup of calcium and phosphorus. Read on to find out which body part could reveal severe kidney dysfunction, and when to start being screened for abnormalities.
Though joint pain can have many explanations—most of them orthopedic—there’s one possible explanation that’s often left out of the conversation: kidney failure. Studies have shown that in cases of severe chronic kidney disease (CKD), it is common for patients to develop calcification surrounding the soft joint tissue that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. This condition is known as calcinosis cutis.
“Alterations in calcium and phosphorus levels and joint pain are a common occurrence in end-stage renal disease patients,” explains a 2017 case study conducted by the Baylor University Medical Center in Texas, which shared the story of a 26-year-old CKD patient with severe joint calcification. “However, metastatic calcinosis cutis is a rare diagnosis that often combines these two findings, with extensive soft tissue calcification surrounding a large joint being the hallmark of this disease,” the researchers wrote.
If you do experience calcinosis, the Baylor team says there are certain areas of the body most likely to be affected. “The shoulders, elbows, and hips are typically the joints affected by these lesions,” the researchers write. “However, cases have been reported in various other periarticular areas of the body.”
This can lead to a range of symptoms in addition to the formation of calcified nodules in the soft tissue of the joints. “Patients present with symptoms such as pain, joint stiffness, nerve compression, inflammation, fistula formation, infection, and sometimes systemic symptoms such as fever,” the Baylor team explains.
A separate 2018 study published in the Saudi Journal of Kidney Diseases and Transplantation presented a similar case study, this time of a 34-year-old man with chronic kidney disease who also had painful swollen joints due to calcification. Those researchers noted that while “calcification is a frequent radiographic manifestation in chronic kidney disease,” it manifests similarly to inflammatory polyarthritis, a type of arthritis that affects five or more joints. The Baylor team also mentioned an initial misdiagnosis in their own case study: The patient was first treated for gout upon arrival at emergency care, but saw no improvements as a result.
Your medical team should be able to identify calcification using a combination of x-rays and blood tests. These screenings may also give you important insights into the overall health of your kidneys.
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According to Healthline, it becomes increasingly important with age to have your calcium levels screened. “If you’re over 65 years old, see your doctor regularly for blood tests to evaluate your calcium levels along with other tests,” their experts write.
“If you’re under 65 years old and were born with a heart defect or kidney-related issues, calcifications can be more common for you than for others of your age,” they add. Speak with your doctor if you suspect you are at increased risk for joint calcification, or if you display any symptoms of the condition and have a history of kidney disease.