Uremia occurs when your kidneys become damaged. The toxins, or bodily waste, that your kidneys normally send out in your urine end up in your bloodstream instead. These toxins are known as creatinine and urea.

Uremia is a serious condition and, if untreated, can be life-threatening. Uremia is a major symptom of renal failure. Uremia is also a sign of the last stages of chronic kidney disease.

At the beginning of chronic kidney disease, you may not notice any symptoms. However, by the time uremia has started, your kidneys are very damaged. Uremia may cause you to have some of the following symptoms:

  • extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • cramping in your legs
  • little or no appetite
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • trouble concentrating

Uremia is caused by extreme and usually irreversible damage to your kidneys. This is usually from chronic kidney disease. The kidneys are no longer able to filter the waste from your body and send it out through your urine. Instead, that waste gets into your bloodstream, causing a potentially life-threatening condition.

Causes of chronic kidney disease may include:

  • high blood pressure
  • polycystic kidney disease
  • diabetes (both type 1 and 2)
  • inflammation of the filtering units in the kidneys called glomeruli
  • inflammation of the kidney’s tubules and the structures around them
  • enlarged prostrate
  • some types of cancer
  • kidney stones that block the urinary tract for a prolonged period of time
  • kidney infections that recur

By the time you have developed uremia, your kidneys are extremely damaged. Dialysis is the main treatment option for uremia. Dialysis is when the removal of wastes, extra fluids, and toxins from your bloodstream is handled artificially instead of by your kidneys. There are two types of dialysis. These types are:

  • Hemodialysis: A machine is used to remove the waste from your blood.
  • Peritoneal dialysis: A catheter (small tube) is inserted into your abdomen. A dialysis fluid fills your abdomen. This fluid absorbs the waste and extra fluid. Eventually, the fluid will remove the wastes from your body when it drains out.

A kidney transplant is another treatment option if you reach end-stage renal failure. A kidney transplant is when a healthy kidney is taken from a living or deceased donor and placed into your body. You’ll be put on antirejection medication long-term to prevent your body from rejecting the donor kidney.

Researchers are currently working on what is called “regenerative medicine.” This type of treatment may help those with kidney disease and uremia in the future. It uses cells that may help the body heal its own organs. This may one day also be able to slow the progression of kidney disease.

The best way to try to prevent uremia if you are in end-stage renal failure is to have regular dialysis treatments. This will keep the waste filtered out of your blood. You should also avoid eating anything high in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium. Eating a healthy diet otherwise and exercising, if approved by your doctor, can help in the prevention of uremia.

Since uremia is caused by severe kidney disease and kidney failure, you can try to prevent uremia by taking steps to prevent kidney disease when possible. Some ways to prevent kidney disease include:

  • controlling diabetes
  • maintaining a healthy blood pressure
  • taking steps to maintain cardiovascular health
  • not smoking
  • maintaining a healthy diet and exercise plan to avoid obesity

There are some risk factors — like age and a family history of kidney disease — that can make it more difficult to prevent kidney disease. However, taking as many preventive measures as possible will help.

The complications for uremia can be severe and, if left untreated by dialysis or transplant, can eventually lead to death. However, even when you’re being treated with dialysis, there are still some complications that affect people on dialysis at a higher rate than the general population.

  • cardiovascular issues
  • heart attacks as a cause of death
  • severe itching from the imbalance of minerals
  • amyloidosis, a rare disease that causes your joints to be painful and stiff and retain fluid
  • depression

It’s important to talk to your doctor about any complications you may be having. Following the treatment plan set out by your medical team can help reduce or possibly eliminate some of these complications.

Uremia is a serious condition, and it can be life-threatening. If you have any symptoms that you think might be related to an issue with your kidneys, it’s important that you talk to your doctor immediately. The sooner a treatment plan can be put into place, the better chance you have at preventing uremia.