Kidney Failure
Kidney Failure

About this topic

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs in the back of your belly, just above your waist. They filter your blood and get rid of waste products and extra fluid from your body. The kidneys also help to control your blood pressure and produce red blood cells. The waste is turned into urine. Sometimes, your kidneys do not work well. Kidney failure is an illness where your kidney stops cleaning waste from the blood.
Kidney failure may be acute or chronic.


What are the causes?

  • Acute − Happens all of a sudden. It may be caused by infection, drugs, chemicals, or trauma. A blockage in your urinary tract or low body fluids may also cause this.
  • Chronic − Happens slowly over time. It may be caused by illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Acute on chronic − Sudden decline in someone with chronic kidney disease.

What are the main signs?

  • Passing less urine or no urine at all or blood in the urine
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Swelling, often in legs or feet
  • Throwing up or not hungry
  • Feeling weak or sluggish, confused, or having trouble sleeping
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Unusual itching
  • Sleepiness or confusion

How does the doctor diagnose this health problem?

The doctor will take your history and do an exam. The doctor may order tests like:

  • Lab tests
  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • X-ray
  • Kidney Biopsy

How does the doctor treat this health problem?

Doctors need to treat this illness to make your kidneys work again. If your kidneys are badly damaged, your doctor will need to use a machine or treatment called dialysis to remove the waste products from your blood. Sometimes, a new healthy kidney from someone else is used to replace your kidneys. This is a kidney transplant.

Are there other health problems to treat?

There may be other problems to treat based on what is causing your kidney failure

What drugs may be needed?

Your doctor may order drugs to:

  • Help with pain
  • Prevent or fight an infection
  • Remove body fluids
  • Control blood pressure
  • Raise your body’s red blood cells
  • Balance your body’s minerals

What changes to diet are needed?

  • You need to limit your food and fluid intake. Your doctor will tell you what you can and cannot eat. This will help lessen the work of your recovering kidneys.
  • Eat high-carb, low-protein meals. Some foods high in good carbs are:
    • Fresh fruit like oranges, apples, pears, peaches, and watermelon
    • Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage
  • Limit your salt by not using table salt, sauces, canned foods, salted snacks, and foods that are cured.
  • Cut back on the number of calories you eat if you are on peritoneal dialysis. The sugar in the fluid used for dialysis can make you gain weight.

What problems could happen?

  • Heart, brain, liver, lung problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Low red blood cells
  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bleeding
  • New kidney is rejected

What can be done to prevent this health problem?

  • Avoid taking drugs that are not prescribed by your doctor. Some drugs are very harmful for your kidneys.
  • If you have an illness like diabetes or heart problems, visit your doctor often. This may help prevent problems that can harm your kidneys.
  • Talk with your doctor about how much water you need each day to keep your kidneys working well. If your body gets less water than it needs, fluid loss can happen. This problem makes your kidneys work harder and can cause harm. Carry a water bottle with you so you can drink during the day to keep your fluids at a normal level.
  • If you have an infection and you see changes in your urine, see your doctor right away.
  • Take your blood pressure drugs as prescribed. Visit your doctor often to have your blood pressure checked.
  • Keep your diabetes well-controlled.

Helpful tips

  • Stay away from dirty water. Do not swim in pools or lakes that seem dirty.
  • Wear loose clothing that will not rub on your dialysis tube or wound site.
  • If you have a family member or relative with kidney disease, visit your doctor for an exam.
  • Try to wait 2 years after having a kidney transplant before planning a pregnancy.
  • Use a water bottle with markings to keep track of how much you drink.
  • Stay away from crowded places and from people who may have an infection.

Where can I learn more?

American Academy of Family Physicians

National Kidney Disease Education Program

NHS Choices


Reference: Kidney Failure,Lexicomp,Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc