The kidneys filter the blood and remove extra water and waste from the body. When something causes the kidneys to work less efficiently, kidney failure can result.
Various conditions can affect how the kidneys work.
In this article, learn about the different types of kidney failure, as well as the stages, symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention methods.
Kidney failure can result from genetic conditions or damage to the kidneys. The kidneys perform functions that are essential for the whole body. For this reason, kidney failure can affect a person’s overall health and well-being.
Types of kidney failure
There are two types of kidney failure: acute and chronic. The sections below will discuss these in more detail.
Acute kidney failure
In many cases, treatment will lead to a full recovery. However, it can be life-threatening without prompt medical attention. At least
Chronic kidney failure
Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as chronic renal failure or chronic renal disease, refers to kidney damage that occurs over time.
Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease
According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are five stages of kidney disease, and kidney failure is stage 5.
The signs and symptoms of kidney failure are similar for acute and chronic kidney failure, but how they quickly they appear is different.
In AKF, symptoms appear suddenly. In CKD, symptoms develop slowly and typically appear after long-term damage has occurred.
Symptoms of kidney failure include:
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
- medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, diuretics, and ACE inhibitors
can leadto acute kidney failure
Common causes of CKD include:
- high 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.
To diagnose kidney disease, a health professional
A blood test measures the creatinine level. If creatinine levels are high, the kidneys may not be fully functioning. Doctors may also check eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) to investigate kidney function. Other blood tests include:
- a test for electrolyte levels
- a complete blood count
- a test for inflammatory markers
- an autoimmune work up
A urine test checks for albumin, a protein that may pass through the urine if the kidneys are damaged.
Doctors may also recommend imaging tests.
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
Dialysis does not cure kidney failure, but it may help improve a person’s quality of life.
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.
A treatment plan will be comprehensive and may include:
- self-monitoring for signs of worsening kidney function
- a renal diet, as prescribed by a doctor or nutritionist
- limiting or eliminating alcohol, which causes the kidneys to work harder
- regular exercise
A person may also need treatment for the complications of kidney disease. For example, to treat anemia, a doctor may prescribe ESAs (erythropoiesis-stimulating agents). They may also suggest iron, vitamin B, or folic acid supplements.
When the kidneys do not function properly, this affects other organs in the body. As kidney failure progresses, other complications can develop.
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- bone loss
- metabolic issues, such as electrolyte abnormalities and acid-base imbalance
Untreated kidney failure can be life-threatening.
What support is available for people living with kidney failure?
Various organizations can support those with kidney failure. They include:
- The National Kidney Foundation (call 1-800-622-9010)
- Medicare and Medicaid
- Renal support network, which provides information on kidney support by state
- American Kidney Fund
See our dedicated article on ESRD and Medicare: Coverage, eligibility, and more
Certain measures may help decrease a person’s risk of developing kidney failure.
- treating urinary tract infections to prevent kidney damage
- limiting alcohol intake
- avoiding or quitting smoking
- eating a varied and nutritious diet
- maintaining a moderate weight
- exercising regularly
- limiting the use of certain medications, such as NSAIDs, with a doctor’s approval
If a person experiences any symptoms of kidney failure, they should consult a doctor. People with a family history of kidney failure can also ask about monitoring.
Anyone with signs of AKF needs urgent medical attention.
The sooner treatment for kidney failure starts, the better the outcome.
Here are some questions people often ask about kidney failure.
How long can you live with kidney failure?
This will depend on how soon a person receives treatment, which treatment they have, and other factors. Without treatment, kidney failure can be fatal.
According to the American Kidney Fund:
- Dialysis enables people to live another 5 to 10 years on average.
- A transplant from a deceased donor lasts 10 to 15 years on average.
- A transplant from a live donor lasts 15 to 20 years on average.
However, the outlook can vary widely between individuals.
What happens if your kidneys fail?
The kidneys support many essential bodily functions. If the kidneys no longer work properly, a range of symptoms will occur throughout the body. In most cases, the symptoms appear gradually. In others, they can appear suddenly and rapidly become life-threatening.
How do you treat early kidney disease?
Kidney failure refers to the final stages of kidney disease. In stage 1 kidney disease, a doctor will likely advise on lifestyle tips to protect the kidneys and work with the individual to manage their blood sugar and blood pressure. They may recommend medications to help protect the kidneys.
What are the first warning signs of kidney failure?
Often, a person does not know they have kidney failure until the later stages. As kidney damage progresses, they may notice changes such as reduced urine output, swelling in the hands and feet, and headaches, and other symptoms.
The outlook for someone with kidney failure will depend on whether the condition is chronic or acute, among other individual factors.
Often, AKF responds to treatment, and kidney function returns. However, some people will go on to need dialysis in the long term.
CKD is not reversible, but treatment can help manage it. Undergoing a kidney transplant 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.