Kidney failure occurs when one or both kidneys aren't able to work normally. The kidneys remove waste in the form of urine from the body. They also balance the water and electrolyte content in the blood by filtering salt and water.
Kidney failure is divided into two categories:
Kidney disease causes the tiny filters in the kidneys called nephrons to lose their ability to filter. Damage to the nephrons may occur suddenly after an injury or poisoning. But, many kidney diseases take years or even decades to cause damage that is noticeable.
The two most commons causes of kidney disease are:
Others causes include:
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Factors that increase your chance of developing kidney failure include:
Some kidney diseases begin without any symptoms. As the disease progresses, some of the following symptoms may develop:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your kidneys, bladder, and ureters. This can be done with a renal ultrasound.
Most chronic kidney diseases are not reversible. But, there are treatments that may be used to help preserve as much kidney function as possible. In the case of acute renal failure, treatment focuses on the illness or injury that caused the problem.
Medications used in acute or chronic kidney failure may include:
Talk to your doctor about other medications you are taking. These include prescribed and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and supplements. Since the kidneys are no longer working properly, waste can build up in your body.
Dialysis is a process that takes over for the kidneys and filters waste from the blood. This may be done on a short-term basis until kidney function improves or it may be done until you have a kidney transplant.
This may be the right option for some patients. Having a successful transplant depends on many factors, such as what is causing the kidney damage and your overall health.
You can take the following steps to help your kidneys stay healthy longer:
If you are diagnosed with kidney failure, follow your doctor's instructions.
In some cases, you cannot prevent kidney failure. But, there are some steps you can take that will lower your risk:
National Kidney Foundation
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Canadian Diabetes Association
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
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Last reviewed July 2013 by Adrienne Carmack, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/10/2013