Kidney failure can be acute or chronic. Which one you have will determine whether it’s potentially reversible or not.

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If you have kidney failure, it means your kidneys aren’t able to do important functions, such as filtering and removing excess fluid, salt, and waste from the bloodstream.

Typically, these toxins would go to the bladder to leave your body in your urine. But when the kidneys can’t do their job efficiently or at all, these toxins build up in your body and can cause a host of life threatening issues.

Kidney failure can happen gradually from chronic kidney disease or suddenly, which is called acute kidney failure. While kidney damage cannot be undone, acute kidney failure often can be reversed.

Read on for more information about kidney failure and how to reverse it.

Healthy kidneys filter all the blood in the body every 30 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Problems occur when the kidneys are unable to work properly. That may happen due to acute kidney failure and chronic kidney failure.

Acute kidney failure is a sudden loss of all kidney function over a few hours or days and can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • septic shock
  • dehydration
  • loss of blood
  • burns
  • pregnancy complications
  • a blockage in the urinary tract
  • certain medications

Chronic kidney disease leads to chronic kidney failure and occurs over time as the kidneys become damaged. As the damage worsens, the kidneys slowly stop being able to filter out all these toxins from the blood, which leads to dangerous levels in the body. This increases your risk for other health problems like heart disease and stroke. Eventually, the kidneys may stop working, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Acute kidney failure can be reversed with quick treatment in a hospital setting, but it may mean going on dialysis (where a machine filters blood instead of the kidneys) until the underlying cause is discovered and treated. The kidneys may start functioning again in a few weeks or months.

In some cases, the kidneys will not recover, which will require dialysis indefinitely or a kidney transplant.

Chronic kidney failure cannot technically be reversed, but you can slow the progression of chronic kidney disease with medications and lifestyle changes.

High blood pressure and high blood glucose from diabetes are the two main causes of chronic kidney disease, so keeping blood pressure and blood glucose in a target range is important for kidney health.

Other things that can help include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • being more active
  • eating a balanced diet lower in salt
  • keeping cholesterol in a target range
  • taking medications as directed
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • getting regular checkups

Symptoms of kidney failure often develop slowly, so you may not notice any signs at first. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), as kidney function worsens, you may experience:

  • swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet
  • having little or no urine
  • feeling sick to your stomach, not feeling hungry, and losing weight
  • having muscle cramps or weakness
  • getting headaches
  • feeling itchy
  • feeling tired but not sleeping well
  • having pain, stiffness, or fluid in the joints
  • feeling confused

The outlook for people with kidney failure will depend on several factors.

For those with acute kidney failure, recovery is determined by what caused the kidney failure in the first place. If the cause is reversible, it’s likely an individual will recover fully. It’s also possible that people with acute kidney failure will only regain partial kidney function. All cases of acute kidney failure put the person at greater risk for chronic kidney disease in the future.

Chronic kidney failure is also called end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and there’s a much higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease in this case. People with ESRD on dialysis are 10 to 30 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the rest of the population.

That said, statistics don’t tell the whole picture, and life expectancy depends on many individual health factors.

How do you deal with kidney failure?

This all depends on whether you have acute kidney failure or chronic kidney failure. In both cases, you may need to be treated at the hospital and may need dialysis.

For people with chronic kidney failure, chronic dialysis usually takes place as an outpatient. Acute kidney failure may be reversed once the underlying cause is treated.

How long can you live with kidney failure?

Again, this depends on whether you have acute kidney failure or chronic kidney failure. People with acute kidney failure may make a full recovery. For people with chronic kidney failure, life expectancy will depend on a number of individual health factors.

Can my kidneys repair themselves?

No, the kidneys cannot repair themselves if there’s damage.

However, acute kidney failure can be reversed, depending on the cause. This means that once the underlying cause is treated, the kidneys may regain their ability to function.

Kidney damage cannot be reversed, but the progression of chronic kidney disease can be slowed with medications and lifestyle changes.

Acute kidney failure is reversible in some cases, but it depends on the underlying cause. Chronic kidney failure is not reversible, but chronic kidney disease can be treated and the progression slowed with medication and lifestyle changes.

Talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms of kidney disease or have high blood pressure or high blood sugar. These are the main causes of kidney disease and can be managed.