What Is Chronic Kidney Failure?
Your kidneys are responsible for filtering
excess fluids and waste products from your blood. This waste is then eliminated
in your urine. Chronic kidney failure refers to the loss of kidney function
over months or years. In advanced stages, dangerous levels of wastes and fluids
back up in your body. This condition is also called chronic kidney disease.
Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Failure
If you’re in the early stages of chronic kidney failure, you
may or may not have symptoms. Many of the early signs of kidney failure can be
confused with other illnesses and conditions. This makes diagnosis difficult.
Early symptoms include:
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- chest pain
- uncontrollable high blood pressure
- unexpected weight loss
If the damage to your kidneys gets worse, you will
eventually notice symptoms. However, this may not happen until a lot of damage
is already done.
Later-stage symptoms 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 much more or less than usual
- swollen feet and ankles
- absent menstrual periods
- shortness of breath
Chronic kidney disease can also lead to serious
- high blood pressure
- fluid buildup in your lungs or other areas
- vitamin D deficiency, which can affect your bone
- nerve damage that can lead to seizures
Causes of Chronic Kidney Failure
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common
conditions that lead to chronic kidney failure.
Other causes 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’re at a higher risk of chronic kidney failure if you:
- are obese
- have diabetes
- have heart disease
- have high cholesterol
- have a family history of kidney disease
- are Native-American, African-American, or Asian-American
- are over the age of 65
Diagnosing Chronic Kidney Failure
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or another
condition that puts you at higher risk of kidney failure, your doctor will likely
monitor your kidney function. Be sure to have regular checkups and report any
At your appointment, your doctor will examine you
thoroughly. Kidney failure may be causing fluids to back up in your lungs or
heart. Your doctor will examine these organs by listening to them with a
stethoscope. This can give your doctor important clinical information.
Blood and Urine Tests
If your doctor thinks you might have chronic kidney failure,
they will 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
creatinine and blood urea. Creatinine is a byproduct of muscle metabolism.
Blood urea is leftover when your body breaks down proteins. When your kidneys
are working properly, they excrete both substances.
Urine tests will be performed to check for abnormalities.
For example, protein is normally only present in trace amounts in your urine.
An elevated protein level might indicate kidney problems months or even years
before other symptoms appear. Your urine sediment and cells found in your urine
will also be examined in a laboratory.
Imaging tests can provide structural details of your
kidneys. These include an ultrasound, MRI scan, or CT scan.
If your doctor is still unsure about the cause of your
symptoms, they may do a biopsy. This can be performed as a needle biopsy or an
A needle biopsy is the most common type of kidney biopsy. During
this procedure, your doctor or technician will insert a special needle into your
kidney. This is considered a minimally invasive procedure.
During an open
biopsy, your doctor will use a surgical incision to expose your kidney.
This procedure requires strict sterile techniques and general anesthesia.
After your 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 your doctor make a
diagnosis. It can also help them determine the cause of your kidney failure.
If you’re diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, you will
need regular blood tests. These will be used to measure various substances in
your body, such as calcium, potassium, cholesterol, sodium, magnesium, and
phosphorous. You will also need to undergo ongoing kidney function tests for
creatinine and urea levels.
Treatment of Chronic Kidney Failure
There is no cure for chronic kidney failure. However, there
are measures you can take to slow its progression.
Kidney failure is linked to high blood pressure, so your
doctor may put you on blood
pressure medication. You might also need medications called statins to lower your cholesterol
Often people with chronic kidney failure experience anemia.
Anemia occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. You may
need a supplement to help increase your red blood cell production. Because your
body needs iron to manufacture blood cells, your doctor might also
prescribe iron pills or
shots. In some cases, you may need a blood transfusion to improve your red
blood cell health.
If your kidney problem is causing fluid retention, diuretics can help relieve your
swelling. This medicine makes you urinate frequently.
Calcium and vitamin D supplements help to
protect your bones. If you have chronic kidney disease, you will have
lower-than-normal levels of Vitamin D, which is essential for calcium
absorption. Taking Vitamin D will reduce your risk of bone fractures. Phosphate
is elevated in kidney failure, and this can also reduce your body’s absorption
of calcium. Your doctor may prescribe phosphate binders, a type of medicine to control your
relieve the symptom of itchy skin.
help with nausea.
Dietary changes might also be necessary. People with chronic
kidney failure usually need to reduce their protein intake. 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.
You might also need to monitor your levels of salt,
potassium, and phosphate. Work with a dietitian to find out how much of these
substances you should eat.
Get in the habit of reading labels. Even if you don’t add
table salt to your food, many prepared foods, such as canned soup or fast food,
are already high in sodium.
Learn which foods are high in potassium and which are low. Your
kidneys are responsible for filtering excess potassium out of your body. When they’re
not functioning well, they won’t be able to filter potassium properly. In people
with chronic kidney failure, high levels of potassium (hyperkalemia) can be
life threatening. It can lead to abnormal heart functioning or paralysis.
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.
You may also need to limit your fluids, 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 that your dietitian has
approved and recommended.
You should also avoid smoking and keep up to date on your
vaccinations, including your flu shots. Discuss supplements and
over-the-counter medications with your doctor before taking them. If you see
other doctors for different conditions, always inform them of your kidney
If attempts to control your condition through diet and
medication fail, you might face end-stage kidney disease. This occurs when your
kidneys are operating at only 10 to 15 percent of their full capacity. At this
stage, your kidneys can no longer eliminate waste as fast as you’re producing
There are two treatment options for end-state kidney disease:
dialysis and kidney transplant. Doctors try to postpone these
options as long as possible because both carry serious risks.
a system for filtering waste products and excess fluids out of your blood.
There are several ways to do this. The two main types of dialysis are
hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. In hemodialysis, your blood is filtered outside
of your body, in a machine. 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 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.
Long-Term Outlook for Chronic Kidney Failure
Some people with chronic kidney failure manage to live for
many years. This can only be accomplished if you keep your kidneys from getting
worse through lifestyle changes and medication. You will need to maintain a
kidney-healthy regimen for the rest of your life.
If you reach end-stage kidney disease, you will need
dialysis or a kidney transplant. Without such interventions, the disease is
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, stroke, fluid buildup in your lungs,
infertility, erectile dysfunction, dementia, and bone fractures.
Children with kidney failure may not grow properly because their
kidneys can’t activate vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for bone growth.
Kidney failure also poses serious risks to pregnant women
and their unborn babies. Pregnant women 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
women. This can potentially kill pregnant women and their unborn babies.
Preventing Chronic Kidney Failure
You can prevent kidney failure by making healthy lifestyle
changes. Here are some general guidelines for healthy living:
- Women and men over 65 should limit themselves to
no more than one alcoholic drink per day. Men who are younger than 65 should
stop at two drinks.
- Maintain good control of your blood pressure.
- If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar.
- If you’re overweight, try to get down to a
healthy weight. This usually means consuming fewer calories and being more
- Over-the-counter pain relievers can cause kidney
damage. Follow the directions on the packages, only them take as needed, and discuss
the use of pain relievers with your doctor if you have any kidney concerns.
- If you smoke cigarettes, quit today.