Kidney failure, also called end-stage renal disease (ESRD), is the last stage of chronic kidney disease.
Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They keep your whole body in balance. They remove waste products and extra water from your body, help make red blood cells, and help control blood pressure. When your kidneys fail, it means they have stopped working well enough for you to survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant. They cannot do these important jobs well enough. Having kidney failure means that:
- 85-90% of your kidney function is gone
- your kidneys don’t work well enough to keep you alive
There is no cure for kidney failure, but with treatment, it is possible to live a long life. Having kidney failure is not a death sentence. People with kidney failure live active lives and continue to do the things they love.
In most cases, kidney failure is caused by other health problems that have done permanent damage (harm) to your kidneys little by little, over time.
When your kidneys are damaged, they may not work as well as they should. If the damage to your kidneys continues to get worse and your kidneys are less and less able to do their job, you have chronic kidney disease. Kidney failure is the last (most severe) stage of chronic kidney disease. This is why kidney failure is also called end-stage renal disease, or ESRD for short.
Diabetes is the most common cause of ESRD. High blood pressure is the second most common cause of ESRD. Other problems that can cause kidney failure include:
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and IgA nephropathy
- Genetic diseases (diseases you are born with), such as polycystic kidney disease
- Nephrotic syndrome
- Urinary tract problems
Sometimes the kidneys can stop working very suddenly (within two days). This type of kidney failure is called acute kidney injury or acute renal failure. Common causes of acute renal failure include:
- Heart attack
- Illegal drug use and drug abuse
- Not enough blood flowing to the kidneys
- Urinary tract problems
This type of kidney failure is not always permanent. Your kidneys may go back to normal or almost normal with treatment and if you do not have other serious health problems.
Having one of the health problems that can lead to kidney failure does not mean that you will definitely have kidney failure. Living a healthy lifestyle and working with your doctor to control these health problems can help your kidneys work for as long as possible.
Healthy kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood. But when your kidneys fail, wastes and extra fluid can build up in your blood and make you feel sick. You may have some of the following symptoms:
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) usually gets worse slowly, and symptoms may not appear until your kidneys are badly damaged. In the late stages of CKD, as you are nearing kidney failure (ESRD), you may notice symptoms that are caused by waste and extra fluid building up in your body.
You may notice one or more of the following symptoms if your kidneys are beginning to fail:
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Not feeling hungry
- Swelling in your feet and ankles
- Too much urine (pee) or not enough urine
- Trouble catching your breath
- Trouble sleeping
If your kidneys stop working suddenly (acute kidney failure), you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Back pain
Having one or more of any of the symptoms above may be a sign of serious kidney problems. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor right away.
Once you begin treatment for kidney failure, your symptoms will improve and you will begin to feel much better.
If you have ESRD, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. There is no cure for ESRD, but many people live long lives while having dialysis or after having a kidney transplant.