Kidney failure (also called renal failure) means one or both kidneys can no longer function well on their own. Sometimes, kidney failure is temporary and comes on quickly. Other times, it is a chronic condition that can get worse slowly over a long time.
Kidney failure may sound serious, and it is. But treatments such as dialysis and kidney transplant help many people with limited kidney function continue to live fulfilling lives.
The kidneys have several jobs. One of the most important is helping your body eliminate toxins. The kidneys filter your blood and send waste out of your body in urine.
The 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 people can live well as long as at least one is working correctly.
When the kidneys don’t work effectively, waste products build up in your body. If this happens, you might feel sick. In the most serious situations, kidney failure can be life-threatening. However, many people can manage kidney failure with the right treatment.
When the kidneys lose function suddenly (within hours or days), it’s called acute kidney failure (or acute kidney injury). This type of kidney failure is often temporary. Common causes of acute kidney failure can include:
Kidney failure usually doesn’t happen overnight. Chronic kidney disease refers to a group of health conditions that affect how well your kidneys function over time. If left untreated, chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure.
The biggest causes of kidney failure from chronic kidney disease are:
Other causes of chronic kidney disease include:
In early stages of kidney disease, many people experience few or no symptoms. It’s important to note that chronic kidney disease can still cause damage even though you feel fine.
Chronic kidney disease and kidney failure can cause different symptoms for different people. If your kidneys aren’t working properly, you may notice one or more of the following signs:
Doctors use a variety of tests to measure kidney function and diagnose kidney failure. If your doctors suspect you may be at risk for kidney failure, they may recommend:
Kidney failure treatment is determined by the cause and extent of the problem. Treating your chronic medical condition can delay the progression of kidney disease. If your kidneys start losing their function gradually, your doctor may use one or more methods to track your health. By watching you closely, your doctor can help you maintain your kidneys’ function as long as possible.
Your doctor may gauge your kidney function with:
Because the kidneys serve such an important purpose, people in kidney failure need treatment to keep them alive. The main treatments for kidney failure are:
While kidney failure from chronic kidney disease can’t be reversed, you can do many things to help preserve the kidney function you have today. Healthy habits and routines may slow down how quickly kidneys lose their functional abilities.
If you have chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, you’ll want to:
A nephrologist (kidney specialist) receives special training in kidney evaluation and treatment. You may benefit from a kidney specialist’s expert opinion if:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 01/11/2018