Chronic kidney failure occurs when your kidneys are damaged and cannot filter waste from your body effectively. You may experience more symptoms as the condition progresses.
Chronic kidney failure is the loss of kidney function over months or years. In advanced stages, dangerous levels of waste and fluids can back up in your body. This condition is also called chronic kidney disease.
Your kidneys filter excess fluids and waste products from your blood. This waste is typically eliminated in your urine.
If you’re in the early stages of chronic kidney failure, you may or may not have symptoms.
Some early symptoms of kidney failure can also occur with other illnesses and conditions. This can make diagnosis difficult.
Early symptoms can include:
- high blood pressure
- swelling in your hands or feet
- urinary tract infections
- protein in your urine
- blood in your urine
If the damage to your kidneys gets worse, you will eventually notice symptoms. Later stage symptoms can include:
- difficulty staying alert
- cramps and twitches
- numbness in your limbs
- bad breath
- skin that’s darker or lighter than usual
- bone pain
- excessive thirst
- bleeding and bruising easily
- urinating more or less than usual
- swollen feet and ankles
- missing menstrual periods
- shortness of breath
Chronic kidney disease can also lead to other complications. These may include:
- pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in your lungs) and fluid buildup in other areas
- vitamin D deficiency, which can affect your bone health
- nerve damage that can lead to seizures
- cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke
- electrolyte imbalance
- sexual dysfunction and impotence
- inability to maintain weight
Diabetes and high blood pressure
Other causes can include:
- damage to kidney function
- recurring kidney infections
- inflammation in your kidneys’ filtration system
- congenital kidney disease
- obstruction of your urinary tract
- autoimmune disorders
You may be at a higher risk of chronic kidney failure if you:
- smoke cigarettes
- have obesity
- have diabetes
- have heart disease
- have high cholesterol
- have a family history of kidney disease
- are over age 65
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or another condition that puts you at higher risk of kidney failure, a doctor will likely routinely monitor your kidney function.
Regular checkups and reporting symptoms can help doctors diagnose chronic kidney failure early.
At your appointment, a doctor will perform a physical exam.
Kidney failure can cause fluids to back up in your lungs or heart. A doctor may examine these organs by listening to them with a stethoscope.
Blood and urine tests
If a doctor thinks you might have chronic kidney failure, they will likely order blood and urine tests.
Blood tests for kidney function measure the levels of electrolytes and waste in your blood. They measure waste products such as. These can include:
- Creatinine: Creatinine is a byproduct of muscle metabolism.
- Blood urea: Blood urea is left over when your body breaks down proteins.
When your kidneys are working properly, they excrete both substances.
Urine tests can measure your kidney function.
A urine protein test measures how much protein is in your urine. Urine typically contains only trace amounts of protein. An elevated protein level may indicate kidney problems months or even years before other symptoms appear.
Imaging tests can provide structural details of your kidneys. These can include:
A doctor may also order a biopsy. This can be performed as a needle biopsy or an open biopsy.
A needle biopsy is the most common type of kidney biopsy. During this procedure, a doctor or technician inserts a needle into your kidney. This is considered a minimally invasive procedure.
During an open biopsy, a doctor will use a surgical incision to expose your kidney. This procedure requires strict sterile techniques and general anesthesia.
After the doctor collects a sample of kidney tissue, they will send it to a lab for microscopic examination.
Testing results and follow-up
The results of your examination will help the doctor make a diagnosis. It can also help them determine the cause of your kidney failure.
If you receive a diagnosis of chronic kidney failure, you will likely need regular blood tests. These measure various substances in your body, such as:
You may also need ongoing kidney function tests to measure your creatinine and urea levels.
There is no cure for chronic kidney failure. However, certain measures can slow its progression.
Medication can help treat the symptoms of chronic kidney failure.
Kidney failure is linked to high blood pressure, so a doctor may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure. You might also need medications called statins to lower your cholesterol level.
People with chronic kidney failure may also experience anemia. Anemia occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. Treatments for anemia can include:
- a supplement to help increase your red blood cell production
- iron pills or shots to help your body manufacture blood cells
- a blood transfusion to improve your red blood cell health, in some cases
If your kidney problem causes fluid retention, medications called diuretics can help relieve your swelling. This medication makes you urinate frequently.
A doctor may also prescribe medication to support your bone health. This can include:
- calcium supplements
- vitamin D supplements, as vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption
- phosphate binders, as high levels of phosphate can reduce calcium absorption
Antihistamines can help relieve itchy skin and antiemetics can help with nausea.
A doctor may also recommend certain dietary changes, including reducing your intake of certain nutrients.
- Protein: As your body processes protein, it creates waste products. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering this waste. A lower protein diet makes their job easier.
- Potassium: When your kidneys are not functioning well, they may not filter potassium properly. In people with chronic kidney failure, high levels of potassium (hyperkalemia) can be life threatening. It can lead to issues with heart function or paralysis. Doctors may recommend a low potassium diet.
- Phosphate: Your kidneys may not be able to process phosphate either. Phosphate can also diminish your body’s ability to absorb calcium. High phosphate foods include fish, dairy products, eggs, and meat. You may need to eat less of these.
- Salt and sodium: Consuming too much sodium can make it hard for your body to maintain fluid levels. Reading labels may help you manage your intake. Many prepared foods, such as canned soup or fast food, can be high in sodium.
You can work with a dietitian or a doctor to find out how much of these substances you should eat.
You may also need to limit your fluid intake so your kidneys don’t have to work too hard.
People with chronic kidney failure often lose weight. Make sure you’re consuming enough calories from foods approved and recommended by a dietitian.
Certain lifestyle practices may help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease. These can include:
- quitting smoking, if you smoke
- keeping up to date on your vaccinations, including your flu shot
- discuss supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) medications with a doctor before taking them
If you see other doctors for different conditions, always inform them of your kidney situation.
End stage treatment
If attempts to control your condition through diet and medication fail, you might face end stage kidney disease.
End stage kidney disease, also known as end stage renal disease (ESRD), occurs when your kidneys operate at
There are two treatment options for end stage kidney disease: dialysis and kidney transplant.Doctors typically try to postpone these options as long as possible because both carry serious risks.
Dialysis is a system for filtering waste products and excess fluids out of your blood.
The two main types of dialysis include:
- Hemodialysis: In hemodialysis, your blood is filtered outside your body in a machine.
- Peritoneal dialysis: In peritoneal dialysis, you fill your abdominal cavity with a special solution via a catheter. The solution absorbs excess fluid and waste before it’s drained from your body.
Because dialysis usually needs to be done several times a week, it’s a big lifestyle change. Dialysis also carries a risk of infection.
Kidney transplant is more convenient than dialysis if you can find an appropriate donor kidney. The donor needs to have the same blood type as you.
A kidney from a living sibling or other close relative is usually best. You could also get your kidney from a deceased donor.
However, kidney transplants also carry a large risk of infection because you will need lifelong immunosuppression.
Some people with chronic kidney failure can live for many years. This can sometimes be accomplished through lifestyle changes and medication. You will need to maintain a kidney-healthy regimen for the rest of your life.
If you reach ESRD, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant. Without such interventions, the disease is fatal.
The health of your kidneys affects your other organs and systems, too. Possible complications of kidney failure include:
- heart and liver failure
- damage to your nerves
- fluid buildup in your lungs
- erectile dysfunction
- bone fractures
Children with kidney failure may not achieve growth milestones because their kidneys can’t activate vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for bone growth.
Kidney failure also poses serious risks to pregnant people and their babies. Pregnant people with kidney failure face a higher incidence of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a spike in blood pressure that can lead to brain or liver hemorrhage in pregnant people. It can be fatal to the pregnant person and baby.
You may be able to prevent kidney failure with certain lifestyle changes. Here are some general guidelines:
- If they consume alcohol, people over 65 should limit themselves to no more than one drink per day. Males who are younger than 65 should stop at two drinks or fewer.
- Manage your blood pressure.
- If you have diabetes, manage your blood sugar.
- If needed, try to maintain a moderate weight. This can mean consuming fewer calories and increasing your activity. A doctor can make provide healthy weight loss guidelines.
- OTC pain relievers can cause kidney damage. Follow the directions on the package, only take them as needed, and discuss the use of pain relievers with a doctor if you have any kidney concerns.
- If you smoke cigarettes, consider quitting.
Chronic kidney failure develops slowly over time. At first, you may not notice symptoms. But symptoms may appear as the disease progresses.
You may be more likely to develop chronic kidney failure if you have certain health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
Preventive measures and treatment may help slow the progression of kidney failure.