Kidney failure often develops slowly and causes a gradual buildup of symptoms that may initially go unnoticed. Symptoms may include decreased urination, swelling in limbs, and itchy skin. In acute cases, symptoms can develop within days.

Kidney failure often occurs slowly over time. Symptoms develop slowly and may increase in severity as the kidneys stop functioning properly.

In some cases, a person may develop acute kidney injury or failure. When this happens, symptoms will typically occur within days instead of slowly over time.

A person may not notice initial symptoms, and some diagnostic tests may help diagnose kidney failure before the person does experience signs.

This article reviews the signs of kidney failure, possible causes, diagnosis, and more.

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Kidney failure signs and symptoms typically develop very slowly. A person may not notice them at first.

The kidneys perform several functions in the body, including:

  • filtering out waste
  • removing fluids from the blood
  • balancing minerals and salts in the blood
  • producing hormones that help with blood pressure
  • helping keep the bones strong
  • helping create red blood cells

When they stop working properly, the kidneys can no longer perform these functions. This causes a person to develop additional health issues and symptoms, such as:

Several underlying health conditions can slowly damage the kidneys, leading to kidney failure. Living with one of these conditions does not mean a person will definitely develop kidney failure, but it can result in this for some.

Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure. Other possible causes include:

Acute kidney failure

In some cases, a person may suddenly experience what is known as acute kidney failure or acute kidney injury. When this occurs, a person will experience symptoms rapidly, often within two days of its occurrence.

The primary cause is a loss of blood to the kidneys. Several conditions may cause this to happen, such as:

Other possible causes of acute kidney failure include direct damage to the kidneys or a urinary tract blockage.

Learn more about the symptoms and causes of acute kidney failure.

A doctor can diagnose kidney failure by testing the blood for creatinine, a chemical that muscles produce and the kidneys filter out. High levels of creatinine in the blood indicate the kidneys are not functioning as well as they should be.

The test is often effective even before a person experiences symptoms of kidney failure.

Other tests for kidney failure include:

Doctors may also order a urine test or kidney biopsy.

Kidney failure may be fatal without treatment. With treatment, a person may be able to live for several more years.

Dialysis and kidney transplants offer different average survival times. The following are average survival times based on treatment:

  • Dialysis: 5–10 years
  • Deceased donor kidney transplants: 10–15 years
  • Living kidney donor transplants: 15–20 years

A person receiving dialysis typically needs to make significant changes to their daily routine. They will need to determine the best time and type of dialysis they want to pursue.

People may also develop other complications associated with kidney failure that include:

A person with known risk factors should consider regular screenings for kidney damage or failure. A person may want to get checked for early stages of kidney disease that can lead to failure if they:

  • have a family history of kidney failure
  • have high blood pressure
  • are living with diabetes
  • have heart disease

If a person experiences a sudden onset of symptoms that may indicate kidney failure, a person should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Kidney failure may not cause symptoms right away. It often develops slowly due to long-term kidney disease.

However, it may occur suddenly due to infections, blood loss to the kidneys, and other possible causes. This is known as acute kidney failure, and a person will develop symptoms quickly.

A person should consider getting checked for kidney failure or disease regularly, particularly if they have risk factors for the condition.

Treatment includes either dialysis or a kidney transplant. Once treated, a person may live for several more years based on their age and treatment route.