Kidney Failure: Types, Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Kidney Failure


Do you wonder why your body forms the urine? These are composed of waste products that need to be excreted from the body. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that extract waste from the blood, form urine, and balance body fluids.

When the kidneys malfunction due to various conditions, this may lead to kidney failure, a serious condition that means the kidneys have stopped working well enough for you to survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Kidney disease is the 9th leading cause of death in the United States. About 31 million people have chronic kidney disease. This condition will eventually progress into kidney failure or End-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Renal failure or ESRD is a state wherein the kidneys can’t perform its role of filtering and excreting toxins from the body. Many causes and risk factors can affect the kidney’s function and health like some diseases, exposure to toxins like ecological pollutants, severe dehydration, and kidney trauma.

When these toxins are not removed sufficiently, it may lead to an overload of these harmful toxins in the bloodstream, causing severe consequences and damage to various organs.

2Kidney Failure Types

Acute Intrinsic Kidney Failure

An acute intrinsic kidney failure happens when there is kidney trauma as a result of an accident or physical impact. This will lead to ischemia and toxin overload in the blood. Ischemia in the kidneys is usually caused by severe bleeding, shock, renal blood vessel obstruction, and inflammation of the glomerulus (glomerulonephritis).

Prerenal Acute Kidney Failure

Prerenal acute kidney failure occurs when there is an abrupt reduction or blockage of blood circulation to the kidneys, called renal hypoperfusion. This causes a loss of kidney function.

The kidneys can’t perform its role of filtering toxins in the blood and excreting waste products because it has no blood flow and oxygen supply. If the loss of blood flow is determined and treated, the renal failure is reversed.

Chronic Intrinsic Kidney Failure

This disorder transpires when there is kidney damage for prolonged periods. For instance, a person with undiagnosed high blood pressure may have kidney failure, without even knowing it.

Chronic Prerenal Kidney Failure

Chronic prerenal renal failure happens when there isn’t enough blood flowing to the kidneys for a long period. The kidneys, as a result, begin to shrink and lose its function.

3Signs and Symptoms

Kidney failure has many signs and symptoms such as:

  • Decreased amount of urine
  • Edema in the legs, ankles, and feet as a result of fluid retention
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty of breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic nausea
  • Seizures or coma
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion



Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure. About 44 percent of all kidney failure new cases are caused by diabetes. In fact, it was the main reason for more than 230,000 cases of kidney failure in 2012.


High blood pressure is also the main cause of kidney failure, leading to about 28.4 percent of all new cases. In 2012, it caused kidney failure if more than 150,000 patients.

Impaired Blood Flow

When the blood flow to the renal system is reduced or blocked, it can lead to kidney failure. Some of the diseases that may slow blood flow include blood or fluid loss, dehydration, blood pressure medications, heart disease, heart attack, infection, liver failure, severe burns, anaphylaxis, use of some medications like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Kidney Damage

There are diseases that can lead to kidney damage. These conditions include blood clots or blockage in the veins around the kidneys, glomerulonephritis, cholesterol deposits, lupus, infection, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, and medications like antibiotics and chemotherapy medicines, contrast dye, and high blood calcium.

Urine Blockage in the Kidneys

Some conditions like bladder cancer, cervical cancer, blood clots in the urinary tract,
colon cancer and enlarged prostate may block the passage of urine out of the body and could eventually lead to acute kidney failure.

5Risk Factors

Risk factors may increase your likelihood to develop renal failure. The risk factors include:

  • Being hospitalized that requires intensive care
  • Old age
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney diseases
  • Liver failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Blockage in the blood vessels in the extremities (peripheral artery disease)


The potential complications of acute and chronic kidney failure include:


If the kidneys do not work properly, they may not be able to help the body produce red blood cells. As a result, anemia occurs, which is the lack of red blood cells in the circulation.

Fluid buildup

Acute kidney failure may cause a buildup of fluids in the different parts of the body including the lungs. This may lead to shortness of breath and other serious complications.

Heart disease

Heart disease can cause kidney failure, and kidney disease may also cause heart disease. It’s one of the most common causes of death of people who are undergoing dialysis.

Since kidney failure leads to anemia, other vital organs in the body do not receive the adequate amount of oxygen they need to function. When the heart and brain do not receive oxygen, this may lead to serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

Muscle Weakness

When the body’s fluid and electrolytes are out of balance, this may result in muscle weakness. Reduced levels of potassium may lead to heart problems, which can be dangerous.

Permanent kidney damage

Acute kidney failure may cause permanent loss of kidney function or end-stage renal disease. People with this condition may require permanent dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive.


Kidney failure can lead to loss of kidney function. In the long run, this condition can cause death.


Many diagnostic procedures can help doctor detect if there’s kidney problem.


A urine sample can provide details for any problems in the renal system, like proteins and sugar that spill into the urine.

Urine Output

One of the simplest tests to diagnose kidney failure is through urine output measurement. A low urinary output may signal a kidney disease.

Blood Test

Blood samples are tested to measure the substances that are supposed to be filtered by the kidneys. Creatinine (Cr) and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and are measured, and when these are elevated, it may signal an acute kidney failure.


Ultrasound, CT scans and MRI offer images of the kidneys to determine if there is any blockage or abnormalities in the kidneys.


Kidney tissue samples are examined for scarring, infectious organisms, cancer cells and abnormal deposits.


The treatment of kidney failure depends on the underlying cause and the complications. However, chronic kidney disease has no cure. The treatment usually consists of measures to control the signs and symptoms, prevent complications and slow the progression of the disease.

If the kidneys become severely damaged, treatments for end-stage kidney diseases are needed.

Treating the Complications

High blood pressure medications

Since hypertension or high blood pressure may lead to kidney failure, treating the condition is recommended. Usually, medications are used to control the blood pressure.

Treat Anemia

The doctor may require supplements of the hormone erythropoietin and iron to aid in the production of more red blood cells. This may reduce the feelings of weakness and fatigue.

Drugs for Fluid retention and swelling

Edema is a common complication of kidney failure. Drugs called diuretics are prescribed to reduce fluid retention.

End-Stage Kidney Failure


Hemodialysis uses a machine to move the blood through a filter outside the body. This aids in removing waste products in the blood.

Kidney Transplant

This is the most efficient yet expensive way to treat kidney failure. It’s surgery to place a new and healthy kidney from a person who just died or a living person, into the body to replace the damaged kidney.


Kidney disease is a preventable condition, as long as all underlying issues are prevented too. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, it is important to take medications to prevent your blood pressure from shooting up. Prolonged hypertension may take a toll on your kidneys.

Acute kidney failure is hard to predict or prevent. However, you may lessen your risk by taking care of your kidneys.

  • Take precaution when you’re taking over-the-counter pain medications. Read the labels of the medicines. Taking too much of medications like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen may increase the risk of acute kidney failure.
  • Manage kidney problems with a doctor. If you have chronic bladder problems and kidney problems, make sure you undergo all treatment procedures recommended by your doctor. This will prevent prolonged damage to the kidneys that could lead to its loss of function.
  • Live a healthy routine and lifestyle – don’t smoke, limit your alcohol intake and choose healthier food options. Reduce your intake of sugar, unhealthy fats, and salty foods.
  • Drink plenty of water. One of the risk factors of developing kidney failure is recurrent bladder infections and conditions. Drinking water can help prevent kidney stones, other kidney problems, and urinary tract infections. You should be making an average of 1.5 liters of urine daily.