Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of respiratory conditions that cause limited airflow in the lungs and difficulty breathing. If a person with COPD is also experiencing kidney disease, they may require kidney dialysis.

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Researchers do not know whether the connection between COPD and kidney disease is causation or mere correlation. In either case, people with chronic kidney failure may require kidney dialysis — a procedure that helps the kidneys filter the blood.

In this article, we provide an overview of COPD and kidney failure and discuss how these two conditions may be related. We also explain how kidney dialysis works and look at the possible outlook for people with COPD and kidney failure.

COPD is a relatively common condition that limits the airflow in a person’s lungs and leads to tissue damage in these organs. Lung inflammation from exposure to harmful substances, such as tobacco smoke, is the primary cause of COPD.

Typical COPD symptoms include a cough and shortness of breath. In severe cases, however, COPD can cause respiratory failure.

Learn more about COPD here.

Chronic kidney failure, also known as chronic renal failure, is a persistent loss of kidney function. The kidneys perform many vital functions to keep the body balanced and in good health. These functions include:

  • removing waste products from various bodily processes
  • regulating the body’s balance of fluids and electrolytes, such as calcium and potassium
  • promoting good bone health
  • regulating blood pressure and red blood cell production

Chronic kidney failure can occur for some time without apparent effects on the body. However, it can then start to have significant symptoms and complications, such as vomiting, weakness, cognitive difficulties, and high blood pressure.

Research indicates a strong association between COPD and chronic kidney failure. Study findings suggest that people with COPD are 1.6–6.3 times more likely to develop chronic kidney failure than people without COPD. However, these findings alone cannot determine whether COPD can cause chronic kidney failure.

Chronic inflammation seems to be a risk factor common in both COPD and chronic kidney failure. Additional research is necessary to determine what, if any, factors connect COPD and chronic kidney failure.

Kidney failure means that the kidneys are not working well enough to perform their vital functions. Damage to the kidneys may happen over a long period, leading to kidney failure. However, in some cases, an injury can cause kidney failure to occur suddenly.

A person typically requires kidney dialysis when the kidneys have lost 85–90% of their function.

Doctors may recommend kidney dialysis when a person develops certain complications from reduced kidney function. These include:

  • encephalopathy, which refers to diseases affecting the brain
  • signs of toxins building up in the blood, which include vomiting and poor appetite
  • electrolyte imbalances, such as hyperkalemia
  • edema, which is swelling due to excess fluids commonly in the legs, feet, arms, or hands
  • acid-base imbalances

Learn more about kidney failure.

Kidney dialysis is a treatment that helps the kidneys filter blood to remove waste products, such toxins and excess water. There are two main types of kidney dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.


In hemodialysis, doctors use needles and tubes to draw blood continuously into a special machine. This machine uses a semi-permeable membrane to filter the blood before returning the filtered blood into the individual’s bloodstream. People on hemodialysis may receive this treatment at home or in a kidney dialysis center.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis is far less common in the United States. Instead of using a filtering machine, peritoneal dialysis uses the peritoneum, which is a semi-permeable membrane that lines the abdomen.

The peritoneum contains a high concentration of blood vessels, making it useful for filtering. A doctor makes a small incision in the abdomen and inserts a catheter. A machine can then pump blood through this catheter for the peritoneum to filter.

Some research suggests that people with chronic kidney disease may have a worse outlook if they also have COPD. For example, a 2018 study reports that in individuals with advanced chronic kidney disease, having COPD increases the risk of a less positive outcome.

Another study suggests that people with COPD may have a worse outlook if they also have chronic kidney disease. This 2019 study, which included 2,274 people with COPD, found that those with chronic kidney disease were at higher risk of mortality.

However, it is important to keep in mind that everyone is different. Many factors unique to each person can alter the ways in which COPD and kidney disease progress and respond to treatment.

Learn more about predicting outlook in COPD.

More research is necessary to determine whether COPD can cause chronic kidney disease. Chronic inflammation is a known factor that COPD and chronic kidney disease share.

Although having COPD and kidney failure at the same time can worsen a person’s outlook, treatment options exist for both conditions. COPD treatments include medications to control the symptoms, supportive oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and exercise. For those with kidney failure, different forms of kidney dialysis are available.