The kidneys filter the blood and remove extra water and waste from the body. When something causes the kidneys to work less efficiently, it can lead to kidney failure.
Various conditions can cause the kidneys to work less efficiently. This prevents the removal of waste, and when this happens, it can give rise to kidney failure.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), kidney failure occurs when a person has less than 15% kidney function.
In this article, learn about the different types of kidney failure, as well as the stages, symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention methods.
There are two types of kidney failure: acute and chronic. The sections below will discuss these in more detail.
Acute kidney failure (AKF), otherwise known as acute kidney injury or acute renal failure, comes on suddenly, typically within a few hours or days.
It may occur due to trauma to the kidney or decreased blood flow in the area. It can also occur due to a blockage, such as a kidney stone, or very high blood pressure.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, kidney function often returns with AKF treatment.
According to the NIDDK, chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as chronic renal failure or chronic renal disease, may affect more than 30 million people in the United States.
When a condition is chronic, it means that it occurs over a long period of time. Damage to the kidneys occurs gradually and can eventually lead to kidney failure.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are five stages of kidney disease:
Symptoms vary greatly depending on whether a person has acute or chronic kidney failure and what stage it is at.
Although symptoms can start at any stage of kidney disease, they typically begin in the later stages.
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:
- producing little or no urine
- trouble breathing
- nausea and vomiting
- changes to skin color
In order to diagnose kidney disease, a health professional can perform a blood test or urine test.
A blood test measures the creatinine level. If there is more creatinine in the blood, the kidneys may not be functioning as well.
A urine test checks for albumin, a protein that may pass through the urine if the kidneys are damaged.
Causes and risk factors
Various types of injuries and diseases can give rise to kidney failure. Certain conditions might cause AKF, while others may lead to CKD.
Common causes of AKF include:
- low blood flow to the kidneys
- 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 can experience kidney failure, certain factors may increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.
Some risk factors include:
- high blood pressure
- a family history of kidney failure
- heart disease
When the kidneys do not function properly, it has a significant impact on other organs in the body. This means that as kidney failure progresses, other complications can also develop.
Possible complications include:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- bone loss
Treatment for kidney failure often includes the following options:
Dialysis involves using a dialyzer machine, which performs the healthy function of the kidneys. The machine filters water and waste from the blood.
A type of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of a person’s abdomen to filter the blood.
After a dialysis nurse has trained them for 1–2 weeks, a person can perform this dialysis at home, work, or when traveling.
Dialysis does not cure kidney failure, but it may help improve a person’s quality of life.
If a person’s kidney function is 20% or less, they may be eligible for a kidney transplant. Donated kidneys can come from a living person or a deceased donor.
After receiving the new kidney, the person will need to take medication to make sure that the body does not reject it.
The transplant matching process is lengthy, and not everyone is eligible for a transplant.
Clinical trials are also an option for some people with CKD.
Various trials are available that evaluate medications, treatments, and protocols for kidney failure.
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
A person may also need treatment for the complications of kidney disease. For example, to treat anemia, a doctor may prescribe iron, vitamin B, or folic acid supplements.
Coping and support
People with CKD may need emotional support. It may be helpful to talk about feelings with a friend or family member.
Getting professional help from a dialysis unit social worker or counselor may also be useful to work through emotions.
A person with kidney failure should find ways to relax, stay active, and continue participating in everyday life to aid their emotional well-being.
Taking certain steps may decrease a person’s risk of developing kidney failure.
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 experiences any symptoms of kidney failure, they should see their doctor.
The sooner treatment for kidney failure starts, the better the outcome. Getting treatment for AKF may also prevent the condition from progressing to CKD.
The outlook for kidney failure varies depending on whether the condition is chronic or acute.
AKF usually responds well to treatment, and kidney function often returns. CKD usually does not improve, but it is manageable with treatments such as dialysis.
Undergoing a kidney transplant to treat CKD may also improve the outlook.
Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys can no longer adequately filter blood and remove waste from the body.
The condition can occur suddenly or develop slowly over time. Kidney failure can lead to various complications, including anemia, bone loss, and heart disease.
Usually, treatment involves dialysis and making lifestyle modifications.