If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), your kidneys aren’t able to filter waste and excess fluid from your blood as well as they should. CKD is a progressive disease, meaning that kidney function can get worse over time. There are five stages of CKD.

Kidney failure is the fifth stage. It may also be called end-stage renal disease (ESRD). If your kidneys fail, they’re no longer able to work on their own.

Some people may be able to stop the progression of CKD before it reaches this stage, while some people aren’t aware that they have CKD until their kidneys fail. This is because, in the early stages of CKD, many people don’t have symptoms.

A doctor can diagnose CKD if you have a urine marker like protein and have had decreased kidney function for at least 3 months.

Early diagnosis is highly beneficial. It can take years to arrive at the advanced stage of CKD, and there are steps you can take to help slow disease progression and prevent kidney failure.

If you develop kidney failure, treatment can help you feel better and live longer.

The main job of the kidneys is to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood. They also produce hormones that your body needs to:

  • manage blood pressure
  • make red blood cells
  • keep bones strong

If you have CKD, your kidneys are no longer able to perform these functions as well as they should. Waste can build up in your body and make you feel sick.

CKD can also increase your risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • bone disease
  • anemia

Many people with CKD don’t experience symptoms until their kidneys fail. At this stage, you may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

While there’s no way to undo kidney failure, it’s possible to live for quite a while with treatment in the form of dialysis or kidney transplant.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, the average life expectancy for people on dialysis is 5 to 10 years. But there are patients who have continued dialysis for as long as 30 years.

Without treatment, your life expectancy with ESRD may be several weeks.

Many factors can affect life expectancy if you have kidney failure. But there are steps you can take to help improve quality of life, such as:

  • following your treatment plan
  • making dietary changes
  • staying physically active
  • working with your doctor to manage related conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure

If you have kidney failure, you’re left with only about 10 percent to 15 percent of kidney function. At this point, your kidneys can no longer function on their own.

If you reach stage five of CKD, you’ll start to experience symptoms. These may include:

  • chest, back, and abdominal pain
  • confusion
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue and drowsiness
  • insomnia
  • itching
  • muscle twitching and cramps
  • nosebleeds
  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting, nausea, appetite loss

Other signs of ESRD may include:

  • fever
  • rash
  • reduction or absence of urine output
  • water retention in legs and feet
  • weight loss
  • seizure
  • coma

If both of your kidneys fail, you’ll need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Dietary changes and regular exercise may help your treatment work better. Your diet is key to maintaining the proper balance of salts, fluids, and minerals in your body. Exercise strengthens your body and oxygenates your tissues. It can also improve your mood and help you sleep at night.


Dialysis does the work your kidneys no longer can, filtering your blood to remove waste products. There are two types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

During hemodialysis, your blood goes through an external filter containing dialysis solution that removes waste and excess water. Your blood leaves your body and then returns via needles in your arm. You can have hemodialysis at a dialysis center or at home.

With peritoneal dialysis, a surgeon inserts a catheter into your abdomen. Dialysis solution from a bag enters your abdomen through the catheter. Once the bag is empty, you disconnect it and cap the catheter. You can then carry on with normal activities. The dialysis solution in your abdomen absorbs waste and excess fluid from your body.

After several hours, you drain and discard the used dialysis solution through the catheter into an empty bag. You may need to repeat this process 4 to 6 times a day. You can perform this type of dialysis anywhere. It can also work while you’re sleeping, with the help of a machine called a cycler.

Kidney transplant

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure in which one or both of your kidneys is replaced with a donor kidney. A transplant can be from a living or deceased donor. Your doctor can guide you through the process of finding a living donor or getting on a waitlist.

A successful kidney transplant may help you to live longer than if you remained on dialysis. In many cases, donor recipients can live the way they did before they had kidney disease.

There are risks with transplant surgery, however, and you’ll need to take anti-rejection medication to protect your new kidney from your immune system. This type of medication increases your risk of infection and some types of cancer.

Your kidneys act as filters and clean out toxins from your blood. They also help to regulate the amount of water and salt in your body. Kidney failure means your kidneys can no longer perform these vital functions.

Kidney failure occurs at stage five of CKD. But it’s possible to manage CKD and prevent it from progressing to end-stage disease. This is particularly true if your doctor catches it early.

Kidney failure isn’t curable, but it’s treatable. Dialysis and kidney transplant are both options that can help you live longer. Many people who have a kidney transplant feel as well as they did before they developed CKD.