Kidney failure is a progressive condition that can lead to a number of serious complications over time.
Your kidneys filter excess waste and fluid to prevent the buildup of toxicity within the body. Although you have two kidneys, each is made up of a delicate network of filters that can be easily damaged by a number of health conditions and lifestyle choices.
Most people lose some kidney function throughout their lives, but if this happens too fast or too soon, it can have a serious impact on every other system in your body. In time, kidney failure can be fatal. Find out how kidney failure happens and what to expect if you have this condition.
Virtually every tissue in the body loses some of its function over time, just from use. Your kidneys are no exception.
You may have periods in your life where you have a temporary loss of kidney function, called an acute kidney injury (AKI). AKIs can be caused by a serious illness or certain medications, among other things.
If you experience frequent AKIs or your kidneys are continually being damaged from things like heart disease or diabetes, these injuries can become more permanent. Chronic kidney disease isn't usually diagnosed until your kidney function drops below a certain level of function. In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, you may not have any symptoms at all.
The five stages of chronic kidney disease, listed below, are measured by your kidneys' ability to filter fluid and wastes from your body. This is called your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Your GFR measurement is an estimate of what percentage of your kidneys are still functioning.
In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, you may not experience any symptoms at all. By the time you reach Stage 5, however, your symptoms have usually become severe and may even be debilitating.
By this point, your kidneys are barely functioning, or are not working at all. They are unable to filter fluid and wastes from your body, and these can build up to toxic levels in your bloodstream. Certain electrolytes, like potassium and sodium, that are normally found in your body can get out of balance, causing heart and neurological symptoms. As fluid builds, your tissues become swollen and your blood pressure can increase to dangerous levels.
Common symptoms people experience in kidney failure can include:
Kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), can be caused by a number of things, such as:
Early diagnosis and management of chronic kidney disease may help delay a total loss of kidney function, but by the time you enter Stage 5, or end-stage kidney failure, there are few options for treatment.
The three main options for treatment of kidney failure are listed below.
Which treatment option you choose will depend a lot on your overall health, what caused your kidney disease, what other complications you are experiencing, and what treatment you are able to tolerate. People with kidney disease usually work closely with a team of doctors that includes nephrologists, cardiologists, and more.
If your kidney disease is caused by a genetic or congenital problem, there isn't much you can do to prevent loss of kidney function. There are, however, a number of things that can lead to kidney failure that are preventable.
Some tips for supporting good kidney health and preventing kidney disease include:
If you have chronic kidney disease, getting regular care and sticking to the treatment regimen developed with your doctor is critical. Good compliance with your medications and treatment plan can help improve your quality of life and may slow further loss of kidney function.
Chronic kidney disease can cause gradual loss of kidney function, leading to complete kidney failure. Once you have entered the advanced stages of kidney failure, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to avoid fatal complications. Be sure to work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that you can maintain and that prevents complications.
Living with kidney disease is difficult, and managing end-stage kidney disease can impact every aspect of your life. Dialysis treatments can be difficult to maintain, but a kidney transplant is not an option for everyone. Talk to your doctor about your lifestyle and the overall goals for your treatment. Having a strong support system is important when it comes to coping with kidney failure.