What Is Kidney Failure?
Your kidneys are pair of organs located toward your lower back.
One kidney is on each side of your spine. They filter your blood and remove
toxins from your body. Your kidneys send toxins to your bladder. Your body
later removes toxins during urination.
Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys lose the ability to filter
waste from your blood sufficiently. Many factors can interfere with your kidney
health and function, such as:
- toxic exposure to environmental pollutants
- certain acute and chronic diseases
- severe dehydration
- kidney trauma
Your body becomes overloaded with toxins if your kidneys can’t do
their regular job. This can lead to kidney failure and even be life-threatening
if it’s left untreated.
What Causes Kidney Failure?
People who are most at risk for kidney failure usually suffer
from one or more of the following causes:
Loss of Blood Flow to the Kidneys
A sudden loss of blood flow to your kidneys can prompt kidney
failure. Some diseases and conditions that cause loss of blood flow to the
- a heart attack
- heart disease
- scarring of the liver or liver failure
- a severe burn
- an allergic reaction
- a severe infection, such as sepsis
Blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also limit
Urine Elimination Problems
When your body can’t eliminate urine, toxins build up and
overload the kidneys. Some cancers can block the urine passageways. These
include prostate (most common type in men), colon, cervical, and bladder
cancers. Other conditions can interfere with urination and possibly lead to
kidney failure, including:
- kidney stones
- an enlarged prostate
- blood clots within your urinary tract
- damage to the nerves that control your bladder
Some diseases and conditions may lead to kidney failure,
- a blood clot in or around your kidneys
- an overload of toxins from heavy metals
- drugs and alcohol
- vasculitis, which is an inflammation of blood
- lupus, which is an autoimmune disease that can
cause inflammation of many body organs
- glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of
the small blood vessels of the kidneys
- hemolytic uremic syndrome, which involves the
breakdown red blood cells following a bacterial infection, usually of the
- multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the
plasma cells in your bone marrow
- scleroderma, which is an autoimmune disease that
affects your skin
- thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, which is a disorder
that causes blood clots in small vessels
- chemotherapy drugs, which are medications that
treat cancer and some autoimmune diseases
- dyes used in some imaging tests
- certain antibiotics
Five Types of Kidney Failure
There are five different types of kidney failure:
Acute Prerenal Kidney Failure
Insufficient blood flow to the kidneys can cause acute prerenal
kidney failure. The kidneys can’t filter toxins from the blood without enough
blood flow. This type of kidney failure can usually be cured once the cause of
the decreased blood flow is determined.
Acute Intrinsic Kidney Failure
Acute intrinsic kidney failure can be caused by direct trauma to
the kidneys, such as physical impact or an accident. Causes also include toxin
overload and ischemia, which is a lack of oxygen to the kidneys. Ischemia may
be caused by:
- severe bleeding
- renal blood vessel obstruction
- glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of
the tiny filters in your kidneys
Chronic Prerenal Kidney Failure
When there isn’t enough blood flowing to the kidneys for an
extended period of time, the kidneys begin to shrink and lose the ability to
Chronic Intrinsic Kidney Failure
This happens when there is long-term damage to the kidneys due to
intrinsic kidney disease. Intrinsic kidney disease is caused by a 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,
which causes pressure and eventual kidney damage.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Failure?
Many different symptoms can be signs of kidney failure. No
symptoms are present sometimes, but usually someone with kidney failure will see
a few signs of the disease. Possible symptoms include:
- a reduced amount of urine
- swelling of your legs, ankles, and feet from
retention of fluids caused by the failure of your kidneys to eliminate water
- unexplained shortness of breath
- excessive drowsiness or fatigue
- persistent nausea
- pain or pressure in your chest
- a coma
How Is Kidney Failure Diagnosed?
There are several tests that can be used to diagnose kidney
failure. These include:
A urine sample can be tested for any abnormalities, including
abnormal protein or sugar that spills into the urine. Your doctor may perform a
urinary sediment examination, which will measure the amount of red and white
blood cells, look for high levels of bacteria, and search for high numbers of
Urine Volume Measurements
Measuring urine output is one of the simplest tests to help
diagnose kidney failure. For example, low urinary output may suggest that
kidney disease is due to a urinary blockage, which can be caused by multiple
illnesses or injuries.
Samples of your blood are taken to measure substances that are
filtered by your kidneys, such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (Cr).
A rapid rise in their levels may indicate acute kidney failure.
Tests such as ultrasounds, MRI, and CT scans provide images of
the kidneys themselves, along with the urinary tract. This allows your doctor
to look for blockages or abnormalities in your kidneys.
Kidney Tissue Sample
Tissue samples are examined for abnormal deposits, scarring, or
infectious organisms. A kidney biopsy is used to collect the tissue sample. A
biopsy is a simple procedure that’s performed, usually while you’re awake. A
local anesthetic is used to eliminate any discomfort. The sample is collected
with a biopsy needle inserted through your skin and down into the kidney. X-ray
or ultrasound equipment is used to locate the kidneys and assist the doctor in
guiding the needle.
Treatment for Kidney Failure
There are several treatments for kidney failure, but the type of
treatment needed will vary depending on the reason for your kidney failure. Your
doctor can help you determine the best treatment option, which may include:
Dialysis filters and purifies the blood using a machine. It 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. A
low-potassium, low-salt diet is often prescribed along with dialysis.
Dialysis doesn’t cure kidney failure, but it will extend your
life if you go to regularly scheduled treatments.
Another treatment option is a kidney transplant, but there’s
usually a long wait to receive a donor kidney that’s compatible with your body.
The advantages to a transplant are that the new kidney can work perfectly, and
dialysis is no longer required. The disadvantage is that immunosuppressive
drugs must be taken after the surgery. These drugs have their own side effects,
some of which are serious. Also, transplant surgery may fail and may even be
Preventing Kidney Failure
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of kidney
Follow the directions for over-the-counter medications. Taking doses
that are too high (even of common drugs such as aspirin) can create high toxin
levels in a short amount of time, which can overload your kidneys. Whenever
possible, you should limit your exposure to chemicals, such as household
cleaners, tobacco, pesticides, and other toxic products.
Many kidney or urinary tract conditions lead to kidney failure
when they’re not managed properly. Follow your doctor’s advice, always take
prescribed medicine as directed, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.