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Kidney Function and Kidney Failure

Kidneys are the body’s filtration system. Our bodies have two kidneys, and they regulate the amount of fluid, chemicals, and salt in the blood stream as well as remove wastes we ingest in our diets. These excess substances are then flushed out in the form of urine.

Renal failure occurs when kidneys are no longer able to properly filter the blood. Renal means “pertaining to the kidneys.” Nephrons are the individual filtration units that make up the kidneys. The doctor who looks after your kidneys is called your nephrologist.

The physical effects of renal failure range from fatigue to nausea to trouble urinating. Below are a few symptoms you might have noticed because of reduced kidney function.

Physical Effects of Renal Failure:

  • Lack of Energy
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Swollen Ankles, Feet, and Hands
  • Frequent Urge to Urinate
  • Itchy Skin
  • Erectile Dysfunction

Renal failure can happen suddenly or over a long period of time. When it happens quickly, it is usually due to a traumatic event or complications of other conditions and is known as acute renal failure. With proper treatment, it is sometimes possible for kidneys affected by acute renal failure to recover normal function.

Chronic renal failure happens when the kidneys gradually lose their ability to remove the body’s waste. There are many causes of chronic renal failure, including genetic conditions and autoimmune diseases, but the most common are diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

These two conditions can wear out the kidneys due to the extra effort required to filter out the extreme levels of fluid, salts, and waste that result from their effect on the body.

Common Causes of Acute Renal Failure

  • Physical Injury
  • Loss of Blood Flow to the Kidneys
  • Urinary Tract Obstruction
  • Exposure to Toxins
  • Complications of Autoimmune and Other Illnesses

Common Causes of Chronic Renal Failure

  • Diabetes Type I and Type II
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
  • Kidney Inflammation (Glomerulonephritis)
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease
  • Focal Segmental Glomerluosclerosis
  • Lupus and Other Autoimmune Conditions
  • Over-Consumption of Some Medications

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)

Continued deterioration of kidney function is known as chronic kidney disease (CKD). The progress of CKD is measured in five stages, marked by how well the kidneys can filter blood. A doctor runs tests to determine the level of kidney function. Stage 5 CKD is diagnosed when kidney function has fallen to 15% or less of normal filtration ability.

Stage 5 is also known as end stage renal disease (ESRD). “End stage” only means that the kidneys have reached the “end” of their ability to cleanse the blood and now need help removing harmful wastes from the body.

Proper treatment to remove the build-up of excess fluid, salts, and waste is essential. If these are not removed from the body, they can quickly become toxic—even fatal. Fortunately, there are treatment options that can effectively replicate the kidneys’ waste removal function.

End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Treatment Overview

Dialysis is a process that filters excess fluid, salts, and waste from the body with the help of a cleansing solution and a substitute filter. Dialysis treatments are typically scheduled three to five times per week, for three to five hours per session. You can learn more about dialysis options here.

While some ESRD patients remain on dialysis, others have the option to receive a kidney transplant. Dialysis is often used as a “bridge” to keep your body healthy while you await your transplant. With a transplant, you will receive a single healthy kidney, either from a family member or organ donor. One kidney is all your body needs to properly filter your blood, so if you receive a kidney from a living donor, you both will be able to lead healthy lives.

If CKD is diagnosed early, you will begin preparing for dialysis or a transplant at Stage 4. Because CKD can progress over the years, it can be easy to overlook symptoms that get worse very slowly. It is common that CKD can go undetected until Stage 5.

When this happens, you will begin dialysis or prepare for a kidney transplant right away. No matter the cause of renal failure or the time of diagnosis, with proper treatment, many people have gone on to lead long and active lives with ESRD—and so can you!

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