What is Kidney Failure?

By  , Expert Content
Jun 19, 2012

Kidney failure is a condition in which the ability of kidneys to remove waste products from the blood and to regulate the body's balance of salt and water is affected. If kidney failure is severe, production of urine becomes less or stops completely. This leads to accumulation of waste products and water in the body and makes symptoms due to accumulation of waste products and water in the body more apparent.

Kidney failure (also called renal failure) can be categorised as:

  • Acute renal failure: In this condition, the function of the kidneys is reduced rapidly because of a sudden illness, a medication, a toxin or certain medical conditions.
  • Chronic kidney disease (chronic renal failure): When the kidney function declines gradually over a period of months or years, it is known as chronic kidney disease. Some of the common causes of CKD include diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure or chronic kidney inflammation (nephritis). Some people may develop CKD because of prolonged exposure to certain toxins or use of certain drugs that can damage the kidney. Chronic renal failure can be inherited i.e. it may run in the family.
  • End-stage renal disease: When the kidney function has deteriorated to the point that if dialysis is not started or kidney transplant is not done, the person will die, the condition is called end-stage renal failure. It may occur in people with longstanding chronic kidney disease or occasionally after acute renal failure.

Symptoms of kidney failure

Symptoms of acute kidney failure include:

  • rapid decrease of urine output
  • swelling (edema) of ankle and feet because of salt and water overload
  • high blood pressure
  • nausea and vomiting
  • lethargy or drowsiness because of accumulation of toxins or waste products in the body (this affects the brain function).

Symptoms of chronic kidney failure include:

  • loss of appetite and general feeling of illness or tiredness
  • itching (pruritus) and dry skin
  • nausea and vomiting
  • unintended weight loss (weight loss when you are not trying to lose weight)
  • change of skin colour (it may become abnormally dark or light)
  • brain and nervous system symptoms such as
  1. feeling drowsy or confused
  2. difficulty in concentration or thinking
  3. numbness in the hands, feet or other areas
  4. muscle twitching or cramps
  5. decreased alertness or mental sharpness.
  • swelling of the feet and ankle (edema)
  • nausea and vomiting (more commonly in the morning)
  • changes in urine output.

Treatment of kidney failure

Treatment of acute kidney failure includes:

  • stopping the underlying cause (such as stopping the medication, which caused kidney failure) or correcting the cause of renal failure (such as shock, haemorrhage, burns, heart attack, etc.)
  • medications to lower high blood pressure, high levels of potassium and other blood chemicals until kidney function improves
  • in severe cases, dialysis may be needed until the kidney function improves.

Treatment of chronic kidney failure includes:

  • aggressive treatment of the cause of kidney failure such as diabetes or hypertension (this can slow or control worsening of kidney function)
  • treatment of complications of kidney failure such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, anaemia to make you more comfortable.
  • dialysis or a kidney transplant for end-stage kidney disease.




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