Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys lose the ability to filter waste from your blood sufficiently. When your kidneys fail, it means they have stopped working well enough for you to survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Your kidneys are a 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.
The kidneys play key roles in body function, not only by filtering the blood and getting rid of waste products, but also by balancing the electrolyte levels in the body, controlling blood pressure, and stimulating the production of red blood cells.
When your kidneys are damaged, waste products and fluid can build up in your body. That can cause swelling in your ankles, vomiting, weakness, poor sleep, and shortness of breath. Without treatment, the damage can get worse, and your kidneys may eventually stop working. That’s serious, and it can be life-threatening.
Functions of the kidney
- Keep a balance of water and minerals in your blood
- Remove waste from your blood after digestion, muscle activity, and exposure to chemicals.
- Produce renin, which your body uses to help manage your blood pressure.
- Production of a chemical called erythropoietin, which prompts your body to make red blood cells
- Make an active form of vitamin D, needed for bone health and other things.
Causes kidney failure
In most cases, kidney failure is caused by other health problems that have done permanent damage to your kidneys gradually. Poorly controlled diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure. Other conditions that can cause kidney failure includes:
- Heart attack or disease
- Liver failure
- Severe burns
- An allergic reaction
- Drugs and alcohol
- An inflammation of blood vessels
- Autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation of many body organs such as lupus.
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Medications such as chemotherapy drugs
- Certain lifestyles such as illegal drug use and drug abuse
Signs and symptoms of kidney disease
Initially, kidney failure may be not produce any symptoms (asymptomatic). You may notice one or more of the following symptoms of your kidney failure:
- Generalized swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sleep problems
- Changes in how much you urinate
- Muscle twitches and cramps
- Swelling of feet and ankles
- Persistent itching
- Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
- Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
- High blood pressure which is difficult to control
If you notice any of these symptoms above, you should contact your doctor right away.
In most cases, your doctor discusses your personal and family history with you. Besides that, your doctor might ask questions about whether you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Your doctor may also asked if you have taken a medication recently that might affect kidney function. In addition, asked if you have noticed changes in your urinary habits. You may also need certain tests and procedures, such as:
Diagnosis of kidney failure can be confirmed by blood tests such as BUN, creatinine, and lipid profile. Glomerular filtration rate also measures the buildup of waste products in the blood.
Urine tests may be ordered to measure the amount of protein, detect the presence of abnormal cells, or measure the concentration of electrolytes.
Other tests are used to diagnose the type of kidney failure such as:
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Kidney biopsy
Treatment of kidney failure
You will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. There is no cure for kidney failure, but many people live long lives while having dialysis or after having a kidney transplant. Your doctor can help you figure out which treatment is best for you.
Dialysis filters and purifies the blood using a machine. The machine 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. You may need to follow a low-potassium, low-salt diet 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. There’s usually a long wait to receive a donor kidney that’s compatible with your body, though if you have a living donor the process may go more quickly.
The advantages of a transplant are that the new kidney can work perfectly, and dialysis is no longer required. The disadvantage is that you must take immunosuppressive drugs after the surgery. These drugs have their own side effects, some of which are serious. Also, transplant surgery is not always successful.