What is Kidney Failure?

What is kidney failure?

Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They keep your whole body in balance. They remove waste products and extra water from your body, help make red blood cells, and help control blood pressure. When you have kidney failure, it means your kidneys are damaged. They cannot do these important jobs well enough. Having kidney failure means that:

  • 85-90% of your kidney function is gone
  • your kidneys don't work well enough to keep you alive

There is no cure for kidney failure, but with treatment it is possible to live a long life. Having kidney failure is not a death sentence. People with kidney failure live active lives and continue to do the things they love.

What causes kidney failure?

Kidneys can become damaged from a physical injury or a disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, or other disorders. High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common causes of kidney failure.

Kidney failure does not happen overnight. It is the end result of a gradual loss of kidney function. In fact, some people do not even know they have kidney disease until their kidneys fail. Why not? Because people with early kidney disease may not have any symptoms. Symptoms usually show up late in the progression of the disease.

What happens when kidneys fail?

Healthy kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood. But when your kidneys fail, wastes and extra fluid can build up in your blood and make you feel sick. You may have some of the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • trouble sleeping
  • poor appetite
  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • itching
  • weight loss
  • muscle cramps (especially in the legs)
  • swelling of your feet or ankles
  • anemia (a low blood count)
  • trouble sleeping

Once you begin treatment for kidney failure, your symptoms will improve and you will begin to feel much better.

What treatments are available for kidney failure?

There are two treatments for kidney failure — dialysis and kidney transplant. The dialysis treatments or transplanted kidney will take over some of the work of your damaged kidneys and remove wastes and extra fluid from your body. This will make many of your symptoms better.

What is the best treatment for me?

You should consider many things when choosing a treatment for kidney failure, including your lifestyle, your age, any other health problems you may have, and whether you have a friend or relative to help you. Your decision should be based on more than your medical history and your doctor's opinion. It should also be based on what you and your family wants. Learning about your treatment choices will help you decide which one is best for you.

Will I need to take medicines or follow a special diet?

Most likely. Your healthcare team will work with you to develop a treatment plan that's right for you. Your treatment plan may include taking medicines, restricting salt, limiting certain foods, getting exercise, and more. You will also need treatment for any other health problems you may have, including high blood pressure or diabetes.

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Where can I get more information?

If you would like more information, please contact us.

© 2014 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.