Kidney failure is a condition in which one or both of your kidneys no longer work on their own. Causes include diabetes, high blood pressure and acute kidney injuries. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, swelling, changes in how often you go to the bathroom and brain fog. Treatment includes dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Kidney failure (renal failure) means one or both of your kidneys no longer function well on their own. Kidney failure is sometimes temporary and develops quickly (acute). Other times it’s a chronic (long-term) condition that slowly gets worse.
Kidney failure is the most severe stage of kidney disease. It’s fatal without treatment. If you have kidney failure, you may survive a few days or weeks without treatment.
Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist. They sit under your ribcage, toward your back. Most people have two working kidneys, but you can live well with only one kidney as long as it’s working correctly.
Kidneys have several jobs. One of the most important jobs is helping your body eliminate toxins. Your kidneys filter your blood and send waste products out of your body in urine (pee).
When your kidneys don’t work correctly, waste products build up in your body. If this happens, you’ll feel sick and eventually die without treatment. Many people can manage kidney failure with the proper treatment.
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Kidney failure can affect anyone. However, you may be at a higher risk of developing kidney failure if you:
Kidney failure affects over 750,000 people in the United States each year. It affects around 2 million people worldwide.
There are kidney disease stages according to your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR).
Your eGFR is a calculation of how well your kidneys filter substances. A normal eGFR is about 100. The lowest eGFR is 0, which means there’s no remaining kidney function.
The stages of any kidney disease include:
Many people experience few or no symptoms in the early stages of kidney disease. However, chronic kidney disease (CKD) may still cause damage even though you feel fine.
CKD and kidney failure symptoms vary between people. If your kidneys aren’t working properly, you may notice one or more of the following signs:
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.
Unmanaged diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). Consistently high blood sugar can damage your kidneys as well as other organs.
High blood pressure means blood travels forcefully through your body’s blood vessels. Over time and without treatment, the extra force can damage your kidneys’ tissue.
Kidney failure usually doesn’t happen quickly. Other CKD causes that may lead to kidney failure include:
Kidney failure can also develop quickly because of an unexpected cause. Acute kidney failure (acute kidney injury) is when your kidneys suddenly lose their ability to function. Acute kidney failure may develop within hours or days. It’s often temporary.
Common causes of acute kidney failure include:
No, kidney failure isn’t contagious. You also can’t spread conditions that cause CKD to another person.
A healthcare provider may use a variety of kidney function tests to evaluate your kidneys and diagnose kidney failure. If the provider suspects you’re at risk of kidney failure, common tests include:
Kidney failure treatment depends on the cause and extent of the problem.
Treatment for a chronic medical condition can slow down the progression of kidney disease. If your kidneys gradually stop working, a healthcare provider may use a few different methods to track your health and maintain kidney function as long as possible. These methods may include:
If you’re in kidney failure, you need treatment to keep you alive. There are two main treatments for kidney failure.
Dialysis helps your body filter blood. There are two types of dialysis:
A surgeon places a healthy kidney in your body during a kidney transplant to take over for your damaged kidney. The healthy kidney (donor organ) may come from a deceased donor or a living donor. You can live well with one healthy kidney.
Yes, you can recover from kidney failure with proper treatment. You may need treatment for the rest of your life.
Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, kidney failure is fatal. You may survive a few days or weeks without treatment.
If you’re on dialysis, the average life expectancy is five to 10 years. Some people can live up to 30 years on dialysis.
If you have a kidney transplant, the average life expectancy if you receive a kidney from a living donor is 12 to 20 years. The average life expectancy if you receive a kidney from a deceased donor is eight to 12 years.
Depending on the cause of your kidney disease, a healthcare provider may prescribe one or more of the following medications:
Though kidney failure and CKD aren’t reversible, you can take steps to help preserve your kidney function. Healthy habits and routines may slow down how quickly your kidneys lose their ability to function.
If you have CKD or kidney failure, it’s a good idea to:
There isn’t a cure for kidney failure. However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, you may still live a long life without drastic changes to your quality of life.
Contact a healthcare provider if you have kidney failure risk factors, including:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your kidneys perform a critical job in your body by getting rid of waste and extra fluid. If you have kidney failure, your kidneys no longer work effectively. It’s fatal without proper treatment.
Dialysis or a kidney transplant can help you continue to live a long life. Your treatment plan may also include taking medications and following a special diet. Be sure to go to all of your appointments. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about your treatments, medications, lifestyle change or any other part of your treatment plan.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/04/2022.
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