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What is Kidney Failure?

What do kidneys do?

Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They keep your whole body in balance by:

  • removing waste products and extra water from your body
  • helping make red blood cells
  • helping control blood pressure

What is kidney failure?

Having kidney failure means that 85-90% of your kidney function is gone, and they don't work well enough to keep you alive. There is no cure for kidney failure, but it is possible to live a long life with treatment. Having kidney failure is not a death sentence, and people with kidney failure live active lives and continue to do the things they love.

What causes kidney failure?

High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common causes of kidney failure. They can also become damaged from physical injury, diseases, or other disorders. 

What happens when kidneys fail?

Kidney failure does not happen overnight. It is the result of a gradual loss of kidney function. 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 later in the progression of the disease and may include:

  • 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

Healthy kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood. But when your kidneys fail, wastes and excess fluid can build up in your blood and make you feel sick. Once you begin treatment for kidney failure, your symptoms will improve, and you will start to feel much better.

What treatments are available for kidney failure?

Dialysis and kidney transplant are the two treatments for kidney failure. The dialysis treatments or transplanted kidneys 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.

Dialysis: There are two types of dialysis- hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Both remove waste produces and extra fluid from your blood. Hemodialysis uses an artificial kidney machine, while peritoneal uses the lining in the belly. 

Learn more about dialysis.

Kidney transplant: A kidney transplant is an operation that places a healthy kidney in your body.

Learn more about kidney transplants.

What is the best treatment for me?

There are many things to consider when choosing a treatment for kidney failure, including:

  • lifestyle
  • age
  • health problems
  • having someone to assist you

Your decision should be based on more than your medical history, doctor's opinion, and on what you and your family want. Learning about your treatment choices will help you decide which 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

You will also need treatment for any other health problems you may have, including high blood pressure or diabetes.

Click here for more nutrition information.

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What’s your story?

We want to hear about your unique experience with a kidney transplant, living donation, or kidney disease. Your story may be the one that gives someone hope.



Last Reviewed: 12/12/2021
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