Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys lose the ability to filter waste from your blood sufficiently. It may not cause symptoms in the early stages.
Your kidneys filter your blood and remove toxins from your body. These toxins go to your bladder and are eliminated when you urinate. When this doesn’t work properly, you can get kidney failure.
If your kidneys aren’t able to function properly, toxins can overwhelm your body. This can lead to kidney failure, which can be life threatening if left untreated.
Keep reading as we break down everything you need to know about kidney failure, including symptoms, stages, treatment, and the typical outlook.
The types of kidney failure include:
- Acute prerenal kidney failure: Insufficient blood flow to the kidneys can cause acute prerenal kidney failure. Doctors can usually cure this type once they determine the cause of the decreased blood flow.
- Acute intrinsic kidney failure: Acute intrinsic kidney failure can result from direct trauma to the kidneys, such as physical impact or an accident, toxin overload, and ischemia, which is a lack of oxygen to the kidneys.
- Chronic prerenal kidney failure: When there isn’t enough blood flowing to your kidneys for an extended period of time, the kidneys can shrink and lose the ability to function.
- Chronic intrinsic kidney failure: This happens when there’s long-term damage to the kidneys due to intrinsic kidney disease. Intrinsic kidney disease develops from direct trauma to the kidneys, such as severe bleeding or a lack of oxygen.
- Chronic post-renal kidney failure: A long-term blockage of the urinary tract prevents urination. This causes pressure and eventual kidney damage.
- Acute post-renal kidney failure: This type of kidney failure can occur due to stones or another blockage in the urinary tract.
Early-stage kidney failure often doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. According to the
As kidney disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- reduced amount of urine
- swelling of your legs, ankles, and feet from fluid retention
- shortness of breath
- trouble sleeping
- muscle cramping at night
- excessive drowsiness or fatigue
- persistent nausea
- chest pain or pressure
Early signs of kidney failure
Symptoms of early-stage kidney disease may be subtle and hard to identify. They may include:
Kidney failure urine color
The color of your urine doesn’t tell you much about the state of your kidney function until damage to the kidneys has progressed.
Still, urine color changes may be an early indicator of some issues.
People who are most at risk usually have one or more of the following:
Loss of blood flow to the kidneys
A sudden loss of blood flow to your kidneys can prompt kidney failure. Some causes include:
- heart attack
- heart disease
- scarring of the liver or liver failure
- severe burns
- allergic reactions
- severe infection, such as sepsis
High blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also limit blood flow.
Urine elimination problems
When your body can’t eliminate urine, toxins build up and overload the kidneys. Some cancers can block the urine passageways, such as:
Other conditions can interfere with urination and possibly lead to kidney failure, including:
- kidney stones
- enlarged prostate
- blood clots within your urinary tract
- damage to the nerves that control your bladder
Other factors that may lead to kidney failure include:
- a blood clot in or around your kidneys
- heavy metal poisoning
- drugs and alcohol use
- vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels
- lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation of many body organs
- glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the small blood vessels of the kidneys
- hemolytic uremic syndrome, which involves the breakdown of red blood cells following a bacterial infection, usually of the intestines
- multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in your bone marrow
- scleroderma, an autoimmune condition that affects your skin
- thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a disorder that causes blood clots in small vessels
- chemotherapy drugs that treat cancer and some autoimmune diseases
- dyes used in some imaging tests
- certain antibiotics
- unmanaged diabetes
You may have a higher risk if you have:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- a family history of kidney failure
The longer you’ve had these conditions, the
Doctors use several tests to diagnose kidney failure. Common tests include:
- Urinalysis: A urine sample can show how much protein or sugar is in your urine. A urinary sediment examination looks for red and white blood cells, high levels of bacteria, and high numbers of cellular casts.
- Urine volume measurements: Measuring urine output can help diagnose kidney failure. Low output may suggest that kidney disease is due to a urinary blockage.
- Blood samples: Blood tests can measure substances filtered by your kidneys, such as blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. A rapid rise in these levels may indicate acute kidney failure.
- Imaging: Tests like ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans provide images of your kidneys and urinary tract to identify issues.
- Kidney tissue sample: Doctors use a kidney biopsy to collect and examine tissue samples.
Kidney disease is classified into five stages. These range from very mild (stage 1) to complete kidney failure (stage 5). Symptoms and complications increase as the stages progress.
You may experience no symptoms and have no visible complications. But some kidney damage is present.
Stage 2 kidney disease is still considered mild, but detectable issues like protein in the urine or physical damage to the kidneys may be more obvious.
It’s also a good idea to talk with a doctor about risk factors that could make the disease progress more rapidly, such as:
- heart disease
- blood disorders
At this stage, your kidneys aren’t working as well as they should.
Stage 3 kidney disease is sometimes divided into stages 3a and 3b. A blood test that measures the amount of waste products in your body helps doctors differentiate between the two.
Symptoms may become more apparent. Swelling in hands and feet, back pain, and changes to urination frequency are likely.
A doctor may consider medications to treat underlying conditions that could speed kidney failure.
Stage 4 kidney disease is considered moderate to severe. The kidneys aren’t working well, but you’re not in complete kidney failure yet. Symptoms can include complications like:
A doctor will likely develop a treatment plan to slow kidney damage.
In stage 5, your kidneys are nearing or in complete failure. Symptoms of the loss of kidney function will be evident, such as vomiting and nausea, trouble breathing, and itchy skin.
You’ll need regular dialysis or a kidney transplant.
The type of treatment you need depends on the cause and stage of your kidney failure.
Dialysis filters and purifies the blood using a machine to performs the function of the kidneys. Depending on the type of dialysis, you may be connected to a large machine or a portable catheter bag.
Along with dialysis, you may need to follow a low potassium, low salt diet.
Dialysis doesn’t cure kidney failure, but going to regularly scheduled treatments can extend your life.
A transplanted kidney can work fully, so you no longer need dialysis.
There’s usually a long wait to receive a donor kidney that’s compatible with your body. If you have a living donor, the process may go more quickly.
Transplant surgery might not be the right treatment option for everyone. It is not always successful.
You must take immunosuppressant drugs after the surgery to prevent your body from rejecting the new kidney. These drugs have their own side effects, some of which can be serious.
You can talk with a doctor about whether you’re a good candidate for a kidney transplant.
Minimizing your intake of alcohol and making dietary changes may help prevent kidney failure from progressing.
At the early stages and beyond, it’s possible to manage and slow progression with lifestyle factors such as:
The guidelines for what you eat will often depend on the stage of kidney disease you have and your overall health. Some recommendations might include:
- Limiting sodium and potassium: Aim to eat less than 2,000 milligrams per day of both sodium (salt) and potassium.
- Limiting phosphorus: Try to stay below
1,000 milligramsof phosphorus.
- Following protein guidelines: In early and moderate kidney disease, you might want to cut back on protein consumption. But you may eat more protein in end-stage kidney failure, depending on your doctor’s recommendations.
Beyond these general guidelines, a doctor may also ask you to avoid certain foods.
Lowering alcohol intake
If you have kidney failure and drink alcohol, your kidneys must work harder than they already do. Alcohol doesn’t metabolize out of your system, so if you have complete kidney failure, you’ll feel its effects until you receive dialysis to filter it from your blood.
Beer, ale, and wine also contain large amounts of phosphorous. Severe heart issues and death are possible if your kidneys cannot filter it out.
If you have kidney failure or late-stage kidney disease, a doctor may recommend you limit alcohol. Eliminating alcohol from your diet, if possible, may be best.
Without management, high blood sugar can damage your kidneys. The damage can worsen over time.
Diabetic nephropathy, or kidney damage caused by type 1 or type 2 diabetes, can’t be reversed. Steps to prevent or limit kidney damage can include:
- managing your blood sugar
- managing blood pressure
- taking medications as prescribed
If you have diabetes, a doctor will likely perform regular screenings to monitor for kidney failure. Your risk for diabetic nephropathy increases the longer you live with diabetes.
Kidney failure can lead to various complications. These can include:
- bone weakness, due to an imbalance of phosphorus and calcium
- fluid retention (edema)
- heart disease
- high potassium levels (hyperkalemia)
- metabolic acidosis, when the blood becomes too acidic
Many people with kidney failure develop secondary complications. These can include:
It’s not possible to know precisely how long a person with kidney failure will live, as it can depend on many factors.
- the underlying cause
- how well that underlying cause is managed
- any complicating factors, like high blood pressure or diabetes
- stage of kidney disease at diagnosis
The National Kidney Foundation says that a person on dialysis can expect to live for an average of 5 to 10 years as long as they follow their treatment. Some people live for more than 20 or 30 years.
Once you reach end-stage kidney failure, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to live. Missing even one dialysis treatment can decrease your life expectancy.
Proper treatment and healthy lifestyle changes may improve your outlook, such as avoiding certain foods.
You can take steps to lower the risk of kidney failure.
Follow directions when taking over-the-counter medications. Taking doses that are too high, even of common drugs like aspirin, can create high toxin levels quickly. This can overload your kidneys.
Many kidney or urinary tract conditions lead to kidney failure without prompt treatment.
You can help lower your risk of kidney failure by:
- eating a balanced diet
- maintaining a moderate weight
- taking prescribed and over-the-counter medications as directed and not taking more medication than is safe
- keeping conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, well managed and following a doctor’s advice
Kidney failure can develop suddenly or from long-term damage. Possible causes of kidney failure can include diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney trauma.
Kidney disease is classified into five stages, ranging from mild to complete kidney failure. Symptoms and complications increase as the stages progress.
If you have kidney failure, you can work with a doctor to determine the best treatment options.