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What is Kidney Failure? Causes, Symptoms, and Potential Treatment

Kidneys are responsible for the removal of wastes, and extra fluid from the human body and hence are as important to your health as your lungs or heart. Kidney failure occurs when one or both kidneys stop working. If left untreated, severe kidney failure can be fatal. So, it’s vital that you learn the common kidney failure symptoms so as to identify them in its early stage and take the right treatment.

It was found that over 850 million people worldwide suffer from some kind of kidney disease, making kidney disease an epidemic in itself. Another survey done in 112 countries found that over a million deaths occur annually due to untreated kidney failure. 

Causes of Kidney Failure

According to the National Kidney Foundation, diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the most common causes of kidney failure. However, a kidney failure resulting from high blood pressure or diabetes is often associated with a chronic kidney disease that was left untreated. Meaning, that kidney failure doesn’t occur overnight but rather results from the gradual declination of kidney function due to a group of health conditions.

More causes of kidney failure are as follows:

  • Urine elimination problem
  • Certain medications
  • Loss of blood flow to the kidneys
  • Autoimmune kidney diseases
  • Urinary tract obstruction
  • Severe dehydration

Less common causes of kidney failure include:

  • Lupus – a long-term autoimmune disease
  • Polycystic kidney disease – a condition in which fluid-filled sacs grow inside your kidneys
  • Glomerular diseases – affect the filtration function of kidneys

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

The symptoms of kidney failure can be classified into two stages – the early stage and the ones that show up as the disease progresses. Symptoms of early-stage kidney failure are often subtle, making them hard to identify.

Having said that, some common signs of early-stage kidney failure include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased urine output
  • Swelling in limbs caused by fluid retention

As chronic kidney disease progresses (that could possibly lead to kidney failure), it may result in symptoms such as:

  • Seizures
  • Excessive fatigue or drowsiness
  • Reduced amount of urination
  • Chest pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Swelling of feet, legs, and ankles
  • Confusion
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Persistent nausea
  • Coma

How to Treat Kidney Failure?

Before getting into the treatment, here are some common tests that a doctor could possibly use to diagnose kidney failure:

  • Imaging, such as MRIs, ultrasounds, and CT scans
  • Urinalysis
  • Kidney tissue sample
  • Urine volume measurements
  • Blood sample

There are several potential treatment for kidney failure. However, the type of treatment a patient needs will depend on the cause and stage of their kidney failure. Two primary kidney failure treatments include:

Kidney Transplant

In this treatment, the doctors replace your kidney with a healthy one from a compatible donor. However, a transplant surgery might not be the right treatment for all patients, as it has its own side effects. So, make sure to discuss with your doctor well before the final call.


In this treatment, the dialysis machine takes over the job of a kidney to filter and purify the blood. Note that dialysis doesn’t cure kidney failure; rather, it helps extends your life by doing the work of healthy kidneys.

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