Chronic kidney failure

Chronic kidney failure occurs when the kidneys gradually lose their ability to do their job.

The causes of chronic kidney failure are not always known, but conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure clearly increase the risks of kidney failure.

Sometimes people are unaware that their kidneys are not functioning properly. This is because kidneys are very adaptable. Even when most of a kidney is not working the remaining portion will increase its activity to compensate for the loss.

"I began to complain of a severe headache. I thought that it was due to the pace of life, stress, and my work. It seemed silly to go to the doctor. In any case, he would have just asked me to work less." - Anita Norway, Diagnosed with kidney failure

It is possible to lead a healthy life with just one kidney instead of the normal two. In fact you can stay free of symptoms with just one kidney working at about 20% of its normal capacity. This is why many patients don't have any symptoms in the early stages of chronic kidney failure.

People begin to feel ill when their kidney function has dropped to less than 10%. Toxic wastes and extra fluids begin to accumulate in the blood. One of these waste products is called creatinine. Measuring the level of creatinine in the blood gives an indication of how well or how poorly the kidneys are working.

Kidney failure can cause fluid to collect in the body's tissues, producing swelling and high blood pressure. Fluid in the lungs may cause difficulty in breathing and put an added strain on the heart.

Damaged kidneys may not produce enough hormones, which leads to other complications of kidney failure. If the kidneys are not working properly the blood may not have enough red blood cells to carry the oxygen our bodies need and patients may become anemic. Without the proper amount of hormones and vitamin D, bones begin to lose calcium and become weak.

Many kidney failure patients also develop cardiovascular disease. In fact, heart disease is the main cause of death for kidney patients.

Appropriate treatment in the early stages may slow or stop the progression of kidney failure. In many patients, chronic kidney failure does progress to what is known as end-stage renal failure (ESRF) or, in the USA, end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Currently there is no cure for ESRD. The damage done to the kidneys is irreversible and dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to replace the lost functions of the kidneys.

The amount of time between when patients are first diagnosed with chronic kidney failure and when they require dialysis or a transplant is different for each patient. It could be a few months or it could be many years depending on when the kidney failure is first detected, the extent of the damage, and how quickly the remaining kidney function declines.

"I knew a long time in advance that I would ultimately end up a renal patient. My kidneys were failing, and the doctors that I used kept an eye on me." - Gerry a kidney patient

May 1, 2006