Kidney Failure

Kidney failure refers to a decline in kidney function to the extent that the patient requires dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to survive. Kidney failure can occur suddenly (acute renal failure, also known as acute kidney injury) or gradually over time. Severe, permanent kidney failure is called end-stage renal disease. 

Causes for Kidney Failure

There are many possible causes of kidney failure. Patients with the following diseases are at particularly high risk:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Autoimmune disease such as lupus
  • Glomuerlonephritis or certain types of vasculitis
  • Certain genetic kidney diseases like polycystic kidney disease
  • Liver cirrhosis

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

When patients go into kidney failure, the body experiences a buildup of waste products it is no longer able to remove. Fluid retention also may occur.  Kidney failure can produce the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Hypertension
  • Decreased urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and fatigue

Diagnosis of Kidney Failure

Once a complete history is obtained and a physical examination is performed additional testing may be performed.  Testing may include:

  • Urinalysis to detect blood or protein in the urine
  • Blood tests to measure levels of creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • Imaging studies such as ultrasound or CT scan

In some cases, a kidney biopsy may be performed to determine the cause of kidney failure

Treatment of Kidney Failure

The goal of treatment is to restore kidney function so waste products stop accumulating in the body. If this is not possible, then dialysis or kidney transplant may be necessary.

Medical management may include lifestyle and dietary changes, and the use of medications to treat any underlying conditions that may put kidney health and overall health at further risk.

Dialysis removes toxins and fluids from the body if the kidneys are unable to do so.

A kidney transplant may allow the patient to regain normal kidney function without requiring dialysis.

Additional Resources