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Kidney failure: types, symptoms, causes, treatment

Researched by Sarfraz
Updated on 1/1/2022


Kidneys are pair of organs, which are present on both sides of your spine; below the ribs, and behind the belly. Each kidney is about 4 or 5 inches long, approximately as long as your large fist. The duty of the kidney is to filter your blood. It removes wastes from your blood, controls fluid balance, and keeps the levels of electrolytes at a normal level. Blood passes through these kidneys several times a day.

Healthy kidneys help your body to avoid the accumulation of wastes and extra fluids in the body. It balances the number of salts and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium as well, in your body. Kidneys make hormones too which provide aid in making red blood cells, controlling blood pressure, and keeping your bones strong.

What is kidney failure?

Kidneys function at less than 15% of normal levels in kidney failure. It is called end-stage kidney disease as well. There are two types of kidney failure, one is acute kidney failure and the other is chronic kidney failure. Chronic kidney failure is irreversible and occurs slowly, while acute kidney failure occurs rapidly and can be resolved. Kidneys are pair of organs that are located in your lower back. One kidney is on each side of your spine. Kidneys filter blood & remove the toxins from your body. These kidneys send the toxins towards your bladder, which, however, later is removed by your body during the process of urination.

Impact of kidney failure on global health

Kidney failure is affecting people's lives very badly. WHO recognized it as a global public health problem. In 2017 more than 700 million people around the world were affected by kidney diseases. That year Kidney failure was the 12th deadliest leading factor that contributes to 1.4 million deaths of people.

Moreover, impaired kidney functions and chronic kidney diseases also cause 25.3 million to 35.8 million disabilities in people. According to the research in 2017 cases of diseases like cancer and other dangerous diseases have decreased but no major reduction in Chronic kidney diseases is observed. There are many medical tests available that can observe your kidney's health. Early diagnosis of kidney-related diseases can prevent kidney failure.

Classification of kidney failure

There are two major categories of kidney failure: 1. Acute kidney failure 2. Chronic kidney failure

1. Acute kidney failure

Acute kidney failure occurs when kidneys become incapable of filtering waste products from your blood. So, when this happens, then this disability results in the toxic level of accumulation of waste products in your blood, and the chemical makeup of blood goes out of balance.

In simple words, acute kidney failure occurs when blood supply towards the kidneys changes or when the percentage of toxic material increases too much in the body. Acute renal failure or acute kidney injury is the second name of acute kidney failure. It is acquired rapidly, generally in less than a few days. Acute renal failure is commonly seen in those people who are already hospitalized, especially in critically sick people who need great care.

Acute renal failure could be lethal and requires proper and intensive treatment. Nonetheless, acute renal failure can be reversible. If you're healthy, then you can recover conventionally or your kidney can be able to work as normal.

1. Causes of acute kidney failure

Here are some main causes and contributor factors of acute kidney failure:

  • Chronic diseases
  • Heart problems
  • Lupus nephritis
  • Side effects of Antibiotics
  • Dehydration
  • Nephrotoxic drugs
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac or Heart surgery
  • Heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Infection
  • Liver issues
  • Severe allergy reactions
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Blood disorders like Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura
  • Skin diseases like Scleroderma
  • High blood pressure
  • Change in blood supply or low flow of blood towards kidneys
  • Narrowing of arteries
  • Heavy drinking such as Alcohol
  • Use of cocaine
  • Muscles breakdown
  • Tumors
  • Blood clotting
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney stones
  • Bladder stones
  • Some cancers ( Bladder, Cervical, Colon, Prostate )

2. Chronic kidney failure

Chronic kidney disease which is also called chronic kidney failure includes continual loss of the function of your kidney. The duty of your kidney is to filter wastes and surplus fluids from your blood, which are onward, released in your urine. When chronic kidney disease reaches its peak stage, then at that stage, fluids, electrolytes, and wastes are built up in your body at a dangerous level.

In the initial stages of chronic kidney disease, you have few signs or symptoms. This disease becomes evident at that time when your kidney is considerably injured or damaged. The treatment for chronic kidney disease points on making slow the advancement of damage to the kidney, which is generally by controlling the main cause of it. Chronic kidney failure can proceed to end-stage kidney failure, which could be deadly without dialysis(artificial filtering) or kidney transplant.

2. Causes of chronic kidney failure

Here are some leading conditions and diseases that contribute to chronic kidney failure:

  • Kidney diseases like Polycystic
  • Diabetes, type 1 and type 2
  • Kidney Infections like pyelonephritis
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Kidney stones
  • Inflammation in kidneys like Interstitial nephritis
  • Hyper Tension (High blood pressure)
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Too much fat on the body or obesity
  • Too much smoking or drinking
  • History of kidney problems in family
  • Abnormal shape and structure of kidneys
  • Cancer

 Symptoms of kidney failure

Kidney failure symptoms are not usually the same in all patients. In the early stage of the disease, it is possible that you may not see or feel any symptoms. Like some time acute kidney failure shows no signs or symptoms and only laboratory-related tests can help to identify it.

Here are the major symptoms of kidney failure:

  • Breathing problems
  • Body weakness
  • Abnormal Heartbeat
  • Pain inside the chest or some pressure-related feelings
  • Confusion and fatigue
  • Less urine need
  • Swelling in the lower body due to high fluid retention
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Lessor heavy vomiting
  • Loss of appetite or less eating
  • Sleep issues
  • Loss of alertness
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Reduction in brain strength like less sharpness
  • Itching especially persistent
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in urine
  • Bone damage and weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Memory weakness
  • Skin problems
  • Foam or bubbles in urine
  • Muscle cramps
  • Less urine with dark color
  • Frequent too much pale urine
  • Facing difficulty in urine
  • Abnormal urine like less or too much urine

Complications of kidney failure

Kidney failure is a very critical health situation. Here are the most common complications associated with kidney failure:

High fluid retention in the body

In kidney failure, your body may start retaining fluid due to less or no urine output. Too much fluid in your body can cause breathing problems. This excess toxic fluid can also cause bad swelling, especially in your lower body areas.

Body weakness

Due to an abnormal supply of blood and other fluids, your body muscles can become weak. It can be due to the bad health of the inner body. Kidney failure can also affect your bones and can cause fractures in bones.

Chest pain and pressure

Kidney failure can cause irritable inner chest pain and pressure. These diseases cause inflammation in the heart that creates this trouble.

Can lead to permanent damage

Kidney failure especially acute kidney failure can destroy your kidneys permanently. Mostly this happened at the end stage of the disease. In this situation, permanent dialysis or complete transplant of kidneys are required to survive.

High blood pressure

Kidney damage can increase your blood pressure which can make the situation more difficult to deal with properly. High blood pressure also increases the mortality risks in kidney failure patients.

Can make heart health worse

This disease can increase bad heart incidents. Your risks of heart problems like stroke, heart attacks may increase many times due to kidney damage. Moreover, high blood pressure and high volume of potassium due to kidney failure body can also prevent your heart to function properly.

It affects the immune system

Kidney failure can affect your immune system. It destroys immunity and can increase your risk to get many dangerous diseases.

It increases pregnancy risks

Kidney failure can increase the risks during pregnancy. It is associated with pregnancy complications like miscarriage, early birth, preeclampsia, and the death of women or babies. Proper treatment and care may reduce these risks. High chances of survival depend on the disease's severity and its stage.

Create impacts on sexual health

Kidney failure can affect your health badly. Due to loss of energy, your desire for sex can reduce. Less energy level and no desire for sex can also cause erectile dysfunction which can lead to infertility.


Complete damage can make your kidneys functionless. As kidneys are essential to survive and with no working kidneys death signal can come.

Medical tests for kidneys

With one healthy kidney, you can survive but both unhealthy kidneys can increase the risks of death many times. To keep kidneys healthy you need to take some steps and one of those steps is monitoring the health status of kidneys. Here are some tests that can help you to catch kidney damage early:

Serum Creatinine

This test measures the value of serum creatine in your blood. Creatinine is a waste material that usually comes from normal wear and tears on your body muscles. Creatinine levels vary in blood, as it depends upon your age, body size, and race as well. Creatinine level which is more than 1.2 for women and greater than 1.4 for men can be an early indication that one's kidney is working appropriately. As kidney disease advances, in blood, the degree of creatinine in the blood increases.

GFR (Glomerular filtration)

It is a test that is used for measuring the degree that how kidneys are working. It tells that whether your kidneys are removing wastes and excess fluid from the blood properly or not. It is calculated usually from serum creatinine level along with age and gender with adjustment for African American descent.

Normal GFR varies with age and the normal value of it is usually 90 or above. A GFR below 60 is an indication that your kidneys aren't working properly. As GFR decreases below 15, there is a greater risk of kidney failure and one should go for treatment, such as dialysis or kidney transplant.

Blood Urea Nitrogen

This test measures the urea nitrogen in the blood. Urea nitrogen usually comes from the breakdown of proteins in the food we usually eat. The normal BUN level lies between 7 and 20. And when the function of the kidney decreases the BUN level increases.


An ultrasound sound test is an imaging-related test. In which sound waves are used to check the health of your kidneys. With ultrasound, health specialists check the abnormality in structure, shape, and position of kidneys. This test is also very helpful in finding tumors or stones in your kidneys.

CT scan

It is also an imaging test in which x-rays are used to find the abnormality in the kidney structure, its size, and its shape. This test also provides information about kidney risks like stones, polycystic kidney disease, and congenital anomalies.

Kidney biopsy

In this test, a small percentage of the kidney layer is tested under a microscope to check for any damage that your kidney has. This test can also help you with a successful kidney transplant.


It is a test of urine in which health specialists check the sample of your urine under the microscope. A stick is used to check the abnormality in the urine, usually the color of the stick changes in case of kidney damage. The urinalysis test is also very helpful in finding bladder infections, diabetes, stones, and other infections that increase the risks of kidney damage.

Urine protein and Microalbuminuria test

This test is used to check the protein and albumin value in urine. Due to unhealthy kidneys, protein and albumin values in urine can increase. 150 mg/day protein and 30mg/day albumin elimination through urine is considered normal whereas more value than these indicates kidney diseases. The excess value of protein in urine is also called proteinuria.

Creatinine Clearance test

This test measures the value of creatinine in the urine. A high value indicates kidney problems. This test checks the creatinine filtering efficiency of kidneys. Creatine is a waste material that your body produces during wear and tear in your body. For males, normal numbers are 97 to 137mL/min and for women, it is 88 to 128 mL/min.

Stages of kidney failure

Health specialists calculate the kidney stages based on eGFR numbers. eGFR stands for estimated glomerular filtration rate. There are 5 kidney stages which are mentioned below:

Stage 1 CKD

Stage 1 CKD shows that you have little kidney damage. This stage has eGFR 90 or more. Stage 1 CKD indicates that your kidneys are currently in healthy shape but there are some abnormalities in other factors that can cause kidney problems.

Stage 2 CKD

Stage 2 CKD indicates mild kidney damage with an eGFR value of 60 to 89. This stage shows that your kidneys have good health but there may be some signs of kidney damage. These signs can be:

  • Physically damaged kidneys
  • Abnormal value of protein

Stage 3 CKD

This stage indicates that your kidneys are not working well. In this stage, eGFR lies between 3 to 59. This stage required medical attention so visit your doctor immediately for early medical help.

Stage 4 CKD

This is a very serious stage. It shows that you are in a critical situation. Stage 4 CKD indicates moderate or severe damage to kidneys. It is a do or die stage because if you don't take useful action during this stage then you will go to stage 5 where permanent kidney damage happens. Stage 4 CKD has eGFR between 15 to 29.

Stage 5 CKD

At this stage, kidney health falls completely. This stage shows that kidneys have failed or they are at the brink of failure. After the complete failure of kidneys, you may need dialysis or a complete transplant of kidneys to survive.

Treatment of kidney failure

Usually, in hospitals, doctors treat kidney failure patients. Recovery from acute kidney failure is possible but chronic kidney failure has no cure but with proper care and treatment symptoms, diseases progress and complications can be reduced.

Treatment of kidney failure depends on its contributing causes. With medications and diet, doctors may treat you with some medicines and with a special diet. Here are some treatments that your doctor may perform:

Medication and Supplements

  • To control the high blood pressure
  • To lower the cholesterol levels
  • To treat anemia
  • To treat swelling
  • To improve bones health
  • To balance the fluids in the blood
  • To control potassium in the blood
  • To improve calcium value


  • Low protein diet
  • Low sodium diet
  • Low potassium diet
  • Calcium-rich diets for bones

Treatment for last stage patient


Dialysis is an artificial way to remove waste from the body. In this process, a machine filters the waste material from the blood.

Kidney transplant

A kidney transplant means replacing the damaged kidneys with healthy ones. Deceased people or donors provide kidneys for transplant. After a successful transplant, you don't need dialysis.

Preventions of kidney failure

There are many diseases that can lead to kidney-related diseases. Some other factors like the side effects of some medications are also responsible for causing chronic kidney diseases. Here are some prevention tips that can help you to deal with the risks of kidney failure:

  1. Control your high blood pressure (a major cause of kidney failure)
  2. Manage your diabetes (the major cause of kidney failure)
  3. Eat healthy foods like natural low in fat, salt, and sugar
  4. Take your medicines only when doctors prescribe
  5. Don't take too many painkillers
  6. Avoid overdosing on medications
  7. Limit or stop drinking Alcohol
  8. Stop smoking
  9. Exercise regularly
  10. Lose your excess weight (calculate your BMI)
  11. Contact your doctor if you feel any abnormal health change
  12. If your urine output or its color looks abnormal visit the hospital immediately

How to live with kidney failure

A mild or low stage kidney failure is not dangerous as the end stage of this disease has more severe results. Complete kidney failure happens only in small numbers of people. Good healthy habits can reduce your symptoms and risks associated with kidney failure. Here are some daily life tips that may help you to deal with this health problem:

Take your medicines as the doctor has prescribed

It's crucial to take the prescribed medicine even after your health has been recovered. Several medicines are usually manufactured to prohibit serious problems, which can happen in the future. It is valuable to read data that usually comes with medicines.

You should check painkillers and nutritional supplements, which you're going to take. These supplements can impact sometimes your kidneys or can interfere with the medicines that you're taking. If you're feeling any problems regarding the medicines or if you're encountering any side effects, then talk to your doctor or your care team.

Eat kidney health-friendly foods

A healthy balanced diet is very essential for kidney patients. Proper care and consumption of healthy foods can reduce the complications of kidney failure. Here are some guidelines about foods:

  • Avoid salt-rich foods- These foods can cause blood pressure problems
  • Don't eat sugary foods- Too much sugar can lead to bad symptoms or risks of diabetes
  • Avoid potassium-rich foods
  • Avoid fried, junk, or processed foods
  • Don't consume too much protein- As high consumption of this can lead to the high value of protein in your urine
  • Eat natural foods like vegetables and fruits
  • Drink milk or add other related dairy products to your diet- These foods are rich in calcium and kidney patient needs it
  • For carbs eat potatoes, pasta, rice, whole grain wheat, or bread
  • Eggs, fish, and meat are also good but only in limited quantities. These are protein-rich sources that is why you may need to eat them in less quantity. Talk with your doctor for more guidelines.

Do some physical activities

Exercise is a very healthy way to improve overall health. If you have mild kidney failure then your ability for physical activities may not decrease. Only severe condition of kidney diseases impacts exercises ability. Daily exercise can help you to maintain healthy blood pressure and diabetes level. Also, it improves heart health. Physical activities help to lose extra weight. Obesity or weight gain can increase your symptoms. It will be good for your health if you do some exercises like walking, brisk walking, cycling, jogging or some light intensity weight lifting.

Stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake

You may also need to stop smoking and alcohol consumption to prevent any future complications. Smoking and Alcohol drinking both are associated with risks of many health problems. Smoking can destroy your overall health. Regular smoking can cause various diseases including cancer. The second is alcohol and its high consumption can also make your symptoms worse.

Most alcohol contains high sugar and calories that are not good for kidney patients. Moreover, Alcohol consumption also causes sleep issues which can disturb you badly if you have chronic kidney diseases. If you can't leave it then limit it. Experts have recommended not drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Monitor your health daily

Always monitor your health in proper ways. Check your blood pressure, diabetes, urine color, and frequency. Go for medical care if you find any abnormal change.

Keep a good connection with your doctor

Always keep a good connection with health experts or doctors. They can guide you properly and with more care. If your health is declining then immediately visit the hospital so your doctors can provide you with necessary treatments.

Get help from the government

Mild kidney failure may not prevent you to do some jobs for a living. Many chronic kidney patients can do their jobs while receiving treatment. Severe kidney failure can prevent you to do work at your job. In this condition, you may need help from your relatives or from the government. In developed countries, the usually government provides financial help to severe health patients.

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  2. The Lancet - Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories
  3. Myo clinic - Acute kidney failure - Symptoms and causes
  4. Katzung, B. (2007). Basic & clinical pharmacology. New York: Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill
  5. Thiele, R. Et al. AKI Associated with Cardiac Surgery. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2015; Vol 10, n 3
  6. Mayo clinic - Chronic kidney disease - Symptoms and causes
  7. Dr Per Grinsted (2005-03-02). "Kidney failure (renal failure with uremia, or azotaemia) - Research Gate
  8. Kidney org - Tests to Measure Kidney Function, Damage and Detect Abnormalities
  9. Kidneyfund - Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
  10. NHS - Chronic kidney disease
Health Diseases Preventions
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