Kidney Failure

(Renal Failure; Renal Insufficiency)


Kidney failure is when your kidneys don’t work as they should. The kidneys clean the blood and make urine. They also level out the fluids in your body.

The 2 types are:

Anatomy of the Kidney

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


AKI is usually the result an injury, infection, or a toxin. Many long term health problems cause kidney function to decline over time. This causes wastes and fluids to build up in your blood.

The 2 most common causes are:

  • Diabetes—harms the tiny tubules that filter blood
  • High blood pressure —harms the blood vessels

Other common causes:

Risk Factors

Your risk is higher if you have:


Symptoms are usually not present in early stages. Later stages may cause:

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Puffiness around face
  • Itchy skin
  • Muscle cramps and twitches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Urinary problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling tired
  • Changes in mental state
  • Seizures
  • Coma


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may also have:

  • A physical exam
  • Urine tests to look for blood, certain proteins, or other markers
  • Blood tests to look for certain proteins or other markers, or count blood cells
  • Renal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Kidney biopsy


Care focuses on slowing the process of disease. It can also help limit further damage. You will need care for other health problems that cause stress on your kidneys.

Care for AKI will focus on the cause such as treating an infection. You may get healthy enough for your kidneys to work normally.

Lifestyle Changes

Making changes may help your kidneys stay healthier longer. These may involve:

  • Watching your intake of fluids
  • Making nutritional changes such as restricting protein, cholesterol, salt, or potassium
  • Being as active as you can be
  • Checking your weight daily to watch fluid levels
  • Checking your blood pressure at home
  • Changing how you use pain medicine
  • Following your care plan for diabetes or high blood pressure


Medicines help manage:

  • The balance of salt, minerals, and fluids in your body
  • Blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Anemia

Your doctor may also change medicines you take if they harm your kidneys.


Dialysis takes over the work of the kidneys. You may need it for a short time while they heal. Some people need it for life. Others use it until a kidney transplant is ready.

There are 2 main types:

  • Hemodialysis —Blood with wastes is taken from the body and filtered through a machine. Clean blood is returned to the body.
  • Peritoneal dialysis —A cleansing fluid fills the space in the belly. Wastes are drawn from the blood into the fluid. The fluid then drains out of the body.

Kidney Transplant

A transplant may work for some people. A healthy kidney comes from a donor. It’s placed next to the existing kidney during surgery. The new kidney should work well enough for you to stop dialysis.

An effective transplant may depend on the cause of kidney damage and your overall health.


To lower your chances of kidney problems:

  • Follow your care plans if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Don’t use medicines that cause harm to your kidneys. Your doctor will make changes as needed.
  • Use NSAIDs as advised.
  • Drink only in moderation. Moderation is 2 drinks a day or less for men or 1 drink a day or less for women.
  • If you’re at high risk for kidney problems, see your doctor as advised.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Kidney Foundation


The Kidney Foundation of Canada


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Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 6/6/2018

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