Kidney failure: What you should know

Kidney failure: What you should know

The kidneys filter out blood to eliminate excess water to body waste. It can lead to kidney failure when something causes the kidneys to function less effectively.

Different conditions might cause the kidneys to work less efficiently. This prevents waste removal, and may cause kidney failure when this happens.

Kidney failure occurs when a person has less than 15 percent kidney function, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Read about the various forms of kidney failure in this article, as well as the stages, symptoms, causes, treatment options and methods of prevention.


Kidney failure is of two types: acute and chronic. These will be discussed in more detail in the Sections below.


Acute kidney failure (AKF), otherwise referred to as acute kidney injury or acute kidney failure, occurs suddenly, usually within a few hours or days.

It can be due to kidney trauma or decreased blood flow in the area. Because of a blockage, like a kidney stone, or very high blood pressure, it can also happen.

According to the Foundation for Urology Care, reinal function often returns with AKF treatment.


Chronic kidney disease ( CKD), also known as chronic renal failure or chronic renal disease, can affect more than 30 million people in the United States according to the NIDDK.

When a disease is chronic that means it takes place over a long period of time. Kidney damage occurs gradually and can eventually lead to kidney failure.


According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are five stages of kidney disease:

Stages of kidney disease


Symptoms vary greatly depending on whether and at what stage a person has acute or chronic kidney failure.

While symptoms can begin at any stage of kidney disease, they typically begin later.

Typical symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • swelling of the feet and legs due to fluid retention
  • trouble sleeping
  • muscle cramps
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes
  • loss of appetite
  • metallic taste in the mouth

By stage 5, symptoms may also include:

  • headache
  • producing little or no urine
  • trouble breathing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • changes to skin color


A health professional can conduct a blood test or urine test to diagnose kidney disease.

A blood test measures your level of creatinine. If there’s more creatinine in the blood, the kidneys might not work too.

A urine test checks for albumin, a protein that could pass through the urine if it damages the kidneys.

Causes and risk factors

Different types of injuries and illnesses can cause kidney failure. Some conditions may trigger AKF while others can lead to CKD.

Common causes of AKF include:

  • low blood flow to the kidneys
  • inflammation
  • sudden high blood pressure
  • blockages, sometimes due to kidney stones

Common causes of CKD include:

  • elevated blood sugar
  • high blood pressure
  • kidney infections
  • polycystic kidney disease

Although anyone may experience kidney failure, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.

Some risk factors include:


When the kidneys do not function properly, the effect on other organs in the body is important. That means other complications can also develop as kidney failure progresses.

Possible complications include:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • bone loss
  • anemia


Treatment for kidney failure often includes the following options:


Dialysis requires the use of a dialyzer system, which conducts the healthy kidney process. The machine filters out blood water and waste.

A kind of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis uses a person’s abdomen ‘s lining to filter the blood.

After they have been trained for 1–2 weeks by a dialysis nurse, a person can perform this dialysis at home , at work or while traveling.

Dialysis does not cure kidney failure, but it can help to improve the quality of life for a person.

Kidney transplant

If the kidney function of a person is 20 percent or less, a kidney transplant may be available. Donated kidneys can derive from a living person or from a deceased donor.

The person will need to take medication after receiving the new kidney to make sure the body does not reject it.

The matching process for the transplant is lengthy, and not everyone is eligible for a transplant.

Clinical trials

Also clinical trials are an option for some individuals with CKD.

There are various studies available that test medications, therapies and kidney failure protocols.

Treatment plans

A treatment plan will be comprehensive and may include:

  • carefully self-monitoring to watch for signs of worsening kidney function
  • following a renal diet, as prescribed by a doctor or nutritionist
  • limiting or eliminating alcohol, which causes the kidneys to work harder
  • getting plenty of rest
  • exercising

A person may also need to be treated for kidney disease complications. For example , a doctor can recommend iron, vitamin B, or supplements with folic acid to treat anemia.

Coping and support

People suffering from CKD may need emotional help. Talking to a friend or family member about the feelings may be helpful.

This can also be helpful to get medical support from a social worker or psychologist in a dialysis unit to work through emotions.

A person with kidney failure should find ways of relaxing, staying active and continuing to participate in daily life to help their emotional well-being.


Taking these measures will reduce the risk of developing kidney failure in a person.

Additional preventive measures include:

  • treating urinary tract infections to prevent kidney damage
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • stopping smoking
  • eating a healthful diet
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week

When to see a doctor

If a person is experiencing any kidney failure symptoms they should see their doctor.

The earlier kidney failure therapy begins, the better the result will be. Getting treatment for AKF can also prevent progression of the condition to CKD.


Kidney failure outlook varies depending upon whether the disorder is chronic or acute.

AKF generally responds well to treatment, and often returns to kidney function. CKD usually does not improve, but it is manageable with treatments such as dialysis.

A kidney transplant can also boost outlook for treating CKD.


Kidney failure tends to happen when the kidneys are no longer able to properly filter blood and remove waste from the body.

The condition may occur suddenly, or slowly develop over time. Kidney failure can lead to different complications, including anemia, loss of bone, and heart disease.

Treatment usually involves dialysis, and changes in lifestyle.