Uremia is a dangerous medical condition that causes urea to accumulate in the blood. Urea is the waste that the kidneys usually help to filter away.
Uremia is a symptom of kidney failure. When the kidneys cannot filter waste properly, it can enter the bloodstream.
In this article, we examine the effects of uremia and what can be done to treat this condition. This article also covers the various symptoms and causes of uremia.
Uremia translates into “urine in the blood.”
The kidneys act as the body’s filters, getting rid of waste and potentially dangerous substances that pass through. When the kidneys do not work well, waste products can back up into the blood.
Uremia is a side effect of kidney failure, so treating the condition requires treating the kidneys.
People suffering from uremia usually have proteins, creatine, and other substances in their blood. This contamination can affect almost every system of the body.
Most people with uremia experience symptoms. However, people with chronic kidney disease, which is the main risk factor for uremia, may not experience symptoms until the disease has significantly progressed.
Uremia vs. azotemia
Azotemia is another condition that can occur if the kidneys are not working properly. The two conditions can occur at the same time.
While uremia is the buildup of urea in the blood, azotemia is the buildup of nitrogen waste products in the blood.
Uremia is a medical emergency that requires urgent treatment. People with uremia may need to be hospitalized. It is not possible to treat uremia at home.
Treatment focuses on the underlying cause of uremia. A doctor might adjust a person’s medications for certain autoimmune diseases, or surgically remove a blockage, such as a kidney stone. Blood pressure medication and medication to better control diabetes may also help.
Most people with uremia will need dialysis. Dialysis uses a machine to act as an “artificial kidney” that filters the blood.
Some may also need a kidney transplant, which may prevent further kidney problems by replacing a diseased kidney with a healthy one. People often have to wait many years for a kidney and may need dialysis while they wait.
The symptoms of uremia are similar to those of chronic kidney disease. This similarity means that people with kidney disease who develop kidney failure may not realize they have uremia.
People with kidney disease must undergo regular blood work and urinalysis to ensure their kidneys are working well.
It is important to note that symptoms vary between individuals and can change, first showing improvement and then deteriorating again.
Kidney disease is a life-threatening condition, so people who suspect they have either kidney disease or uremia should see a doctor promptly. Some symptoms to watch for include:
- A cluster of symptoms called uremic neuropathy or nerve damage due to kidney failure. Neuropathy can cause tingling, numbness, or electrical sensations in the body, particularly the hands and feet.
- Weakness, exhaustion, and confusion. These symptoms tend to get worse over time and do not go away with rest or improved nutrition.
- Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Some people may lose weight because of these problems.
- Changes in blood tests. Often, the first sign of uremia is urea’s presence in the blood during routine blood testing.
- People with uremia may also show signs of metabolic acidosis where the body produces too much acid.
- High blood pressure.
- Swelling, particularly around the feet and ankles.
- Dry, itchy skin.
- More frequent urination, as the kidneys work harder to get rid of waste.
Uremia can lead to kidney failure when left untreated. Someone with uremia may have seizures, loss of consciousness, heart attacks, and other life-threatening symptoms. Some will need a kidney transplant.
Kidney failure may also damage other organs, so untreated uremia can result in liver or heart failure.
Chronic kidney disease or CKD can cause kidney failure, making it difficult for the kidneys to filter out waste and keep the blood clean.
Several conditions can cause CKD, but the two most common are diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes causes dangerously high blood sugar levels, which can damage the kidneys, blood vessels, heart, and other organs.
High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, making them weak or hard. This damage can make it harder for the kidneys to work, eventually leading to kidney failure.
Other causes of kidney disease that can lead to uremia include:
- Genetic kidney diseases, such as polycystic kidney disease.
- Problems with the kidneys’ shape or structure, usually occurring when a baby is still growing in the womb.
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.
- A group of diseases called glomerulonephritis that damage the kidneys and cause chronic inflammation, making it difficult for the kidneys to filter urea.
- Blockages in or around the kidneys. Large kidney stones, kidney tumors, or an enlarged prostate can harm the kidneys.
- Chronic urinary tract or kidney infections.
Chronic kidney disease is the main risk factor for uremia. Conditions that may increase the risk of kidney disease include:
- a family history of kidney disease
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
Older adults are also more prone to kidney failure and uremia than younger individuals. African-Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanic Americans may be more vulnerable to kidney disease.
People with chronic kidney disease who do not have dialysis or who fail to follow their doctor’s treatment recommendations may be more likely to experience kidney failure and uremia than others.
Individuals with kidney disease may be able to prevent uremia by following the treatment plan prescribed by their doctor. However, the best strategy for preventing uremia is to avoid kidney failure in the first place.
It is possible to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes with a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy body mass index or BMI, eating a balanced diet, and remaining physically active can help.
Kidney disease is a chronic illness that can cause many potentially fatal health problems. People who develop uremia may die from kidney failure, particularly if they do not get treatment.
One study from 1998 followed 139 people with uremia for up to 5 years when 30 percent died.
People who receive a kidney transplant, as a treatment for kidney failure, are more likely to survive than those who receive dialysis.
Some people develop uremia due to a temporary and treatable condition, such as a blockage in the kidneys or an enlarged prostate. The outlook for them depends on whether the kidneys are permanently damaged, and whether their uremia damages any other organs.
Uremia is a potentially deadly medical condition that usually signals a chronic illness.
A person’s long-term survival and quality of life depend on factors, such as their age, overall health, the quality of their treatment, and the cause of the uremia.
People can survive uremia if they have prompt treatment. However, no one should delay seeking treatment for suspected uremia and should ensure they receive treatment from a doctor specializing in kidney failure.