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Kidney Failure - Causes, Types, Stages, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

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Kidney Failure - Causes, Types, Stages, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

5 min read


Healthy kidneys do a lot of essential jobs, which makes us wonder what will happen if these kidneys stop functioning? Read this article to know more about kidney failure, its signs, and treatment options.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anshul Varshney

Published At July 16, 2021
Reviewed AtNovember 10, 2022


Kidney failure is also known as end-stage renal disease. It is the final stage of chronic kidney disease. When your kidneys fail, it means that it has stopped working well enough for you. This article will provide some information about kidney failure, its signs and symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

When Do You Call It a Kidney Failure?

Kidneys are a pair of excretory organs located on either side of the spine. Kidneys are used for the filtration of blood and remove the toxins from the body and send these toxins to the bladder, which is later removed through the urine.

Kidney failure is when the kidneys lose the ability to function properly and efficiently. They will not be able to filter the waste from the blood. When the kidneys fail to function, then the body becomes overloaded with toxins which can be life-threatening if left untreated. If less than 15% of the kidneys are not functioning normally, then it is considered kidney failure.

What Are the Causes of Kidney Failure?

Kidney failure can result from a number of conditions. The causes of kidney failure can also help to determine the type of kidney failure. Some of the most common causes of kidney failure are:

  • Loss of blood flow to the kidneys.

  • Problems with the elimination of urine.

  • Infection.

  • Drugs and alcohol.

  • Uncontrolled diabetes.

  • Glomerulonephritis.

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome.

  • Lupus.

  • Multiple myeloma.

  • Scleroderma.

  • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.

  • Chemotherapy drugs.

  • Antibiotics.

  • Dyes used in the imaging tests.

What Are the Different Types of Kidney Failure?

There are two different types of kidney failure, and they are:

1. Acute kidney failure.

- Acute prerenal kidney failure.

- Acute intrinsic kidney failure.

2. Chronic kidney failure.

- Chronic prerenal kidney failure.

- Chronic intrinsic kidney failure.

- Chronic postrenal kidney failure.

Acute Prerenal Kidney Failure:

Acute prerenal kidney failure occurs when the blood flow to the kidneys is not sufficient. When there is insufficient blood flow, then the kidneys will not be able to filter the toxins from the blood.

Acute Intrinsic Kidney Failure:

This kind of kidney failure can result from a trauma to the kidneys, such as physical impact or accident. It generally happens when there is a lack of oxygen in the kidneys.

The causes for lack of oxygen to the kidneys include:

  • Shock.

  • Glomerulonephritis.

  • Obstruction of blood vessels to the kidney.

  • Severe bleeding.

Chronic Prerenal Kidney Failure:

Chronic prerenal kidney failure occurs when the blood flow to the kidneys is insufficient for a longer period of time, then the kidneys begin to shrink and will gradually lose their function.

Chronic Intrinsic Kidney Failure:

Chronic intrinsic kidney failure is the long-term damage to the kidneys resulting from a trauma to the kidneys or due to lack of oxygen.

Chronic Postrenal Kidney Failure:

When the urinary tract is blocked for an extended period of time, preventing urination. This eventually causes kidney failure.

What Are the Different Stages of Kidney Failure?

Kidney failure is differentiated into five stages, from mild to complete kidney failure. As the stage progresses, the symptoms and complications can vary or increase.

Stage 1:

This is a very mild stage, and you will not experience any symptoms. There are also no visible complications. Though there is some kind of damage, the kidneys will be able to manage and can maintain a normal life. All you need to do is to keep your blood sugar levels controlled and need to have a healthy and well-balanced diet, and need to stay away from tobacco products. Exercising regularly will also be required.

Stage 2:

This stage is also considered a mild form of kidney disease. But certain abnormalities like protein in the urine can be found in the samples. There are certain risk factors that can make the stage progress more further. So you need to be aware of those risk factors, and you may also need to follow all the lifestyle changes that were mentioned above in stage 1 kidney failure.

Stage 3:

This stage of kidney failure is considered to be moderate. This stage 3 is further differentiated into 3A and 3B. Blood tests are used to differentiate between the two subdivisions by measuring the amount of waste products in the body. The symptoms can become more obvious in this stage of kidney failure. The urologist may prescribe certain medications to treat the underlying condition, and some lifestyle changes can also help.

Stage 4:

In this stage of kidney failure, the kidneys are not working properly. It is considered to be moderate to severe. The urologist may recommend certain treatments to slow down the damage, and lifestyle approaches are essential.

Stage 5:

In this stage, the kidneys are in a state of complete failure. The symptoms of the loss of kidney function will be clearly visible. In this stage, the urologist may recommend either dialysis on a regular basis or a kidney transplant.

What Are the Signs And Symptoms of Kidney Failure?

People with kidney failure may experience some symptoms of the disease. The following are the possible symptoms of the disease:

1) Swelling of the legs, feet, and ankles because of the retention of the fluids.

2) Decrease in the amount of urine.

3) Excessive drowsiness.

4) Fatigue.

5) Nausea.

6) Pain or feeling pressure in the chest.

7) Shortness of breath.

8) Seizures.

9) Coma.

Sometimes people do not experience any of the symptoms. And few symptoms of early kidney disease can be hard to diagnose. They are usually subtle in the early stages of kidney disease. So if you may notice any of the following signs of kidney failure:

  • Reduced amount of urine.

  • Swelling in the limbs.

  • Shortness of breath.

What Are the Tests That Are Available to Diagnose Kidney Failure?

There are multiple tests used to diagnose kidney failure, and they are:

  • Urinalysis.

  • Measuring the volume of the urine.

  • Blood sample.

  • Imaging tests.

  • Biopsy.


Urinalysis is a test done to determine the presence of any abnormalities like protein or sugar in the urine. This test is also used to determine the amount of red blood cells and white blood cells and to look for any presence of bacteria.

Measuring the volume of the urine:

Measuring the amount of urine is one of the simplest and easiest ways to diagnose kidney failure. Decreased urine volume may indicate a urinary blockage and other illnesses underlying it.

Blood sample:

Blood samples are used to measure the substances that are filtered by the kidneys. Substances like creatinine or blood urea nitrogen. Increase in these levels can indicate kidney failure.

Imaging tests:

Tests like ultrasounds provide images of the kidneys and the urinary tract. This helps to determine if any blockage or abnormalities are present in the kidneys.


A biopsy helps to see whether the kidneys are functioning properly.

What Are the Treatments Available For Kidney Failure?

The treatment options depend on the underlying cause and the stage of kidney failure. Following are the treatment options:


It is a treatment that is used to filter the waste and extra water from the blood. A dialysis machine pumps the blood and filters it, and returns the filtered blood back into the body. You can get this dialysis treatment done either in the hospital or at home three times a week.

Peritoneal Dialysis:

In this treatment, the lining of the belly is used to filter the waste and extra fluid from the body.

Kidney Transplant:

During the transplant surgery, a healthy kidney taken from a donor is placed into the body. The newly transplanted kidney performs the function that the other two kidneys used to do. After the kidney transplant, doctors may suggest some immunosuppressive medicines that have to be taken every day to ensure that the immune system does not reject the newly transplanted kidney.

Is There Any Specific Diet People With Kidney Failure Have to Follow?

There is nothing such as a specific diet for people with kidney failure. But there are certain guidelines you need to follow depending on the stage of kidney failure or the health of the person.

  • You may need to limit the usage of sodium and potassium.

  • You also need to limit the usage of phosphorus.

  • In the initial and moderate stages of kidney failure, you may need to cut down on protein consumption, and in the later stages of kidney failure, you may need to include more protein in your diet based on your doctor’s recommendations.

Will Kidney Failure Affect Sex Life?

Kidney failure can affect emotions, hormones, energy levels, all of which can lead to change in your sexual relationships. Managing your kidney disease and controlling your blood pressure and glucose levels can help prevent sexual problems like erectile dysfunction.


Kidney failure can get worse over time. Diagnosing kidney failure ahead of time and being prepared to take the treatment can help you to live a better life and helps to continue doing things they love to do.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Initial Symptoms Indicate a Kidney Damage?

New-onset swelling or edema (pitting type) in the shin and ankles, tiredness or fatigue, nausea and vomiting soon after getting up in the morning, puffiness around eyes, altered urinary frequency (increased or decreased), foamy urine, pain below the ribs, backache, and high blood pressure are some early warning signs and symptoms of kidney damage.


What Are the Primary Causative Factors of Kidney Failure?

Long-standing diabetes and high blood pressure primarily damage kidneys. Other causes include polycystic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, autoimmune diseases (lupus), kidney infection, glomerular diseases, obstructed urinary flow due to stones, and blood flow obstruction to the kidneys.


What Signs Indicate That Your Kidneys Are Damaged?

Nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, itching dry skin, fatigue, swelling of legs, feet, ankles, and face, low back pain, weight loss, anemia, high blood pressure, metallic taste in the mouth, unintentional weight loss, seizures, confusion, muscle cramps, headache, tightness of chest, and difficulty falling asleep are signs and symptoms of a damaging kidney.


What Happens After a Kidney Failure?

Damaged kidneys can result in excess fluid and toxin buildup in the body due to their inability to filter waste products and extra fluid. Their improper functioning affects the production of renin and erythropoietin, which are essential for controlled blood pressure levels and red blood cell production. Kidney failure also affects vitamin D metabolism, which is necessary for healthy bones.


How Does Urine Appear In Kidney Failure?

The urine appears foamy or frothy and cloudy. This is due to the excretion of excessive amounts of protein through urine (proteinuria or albuminuria). Sometimes blood may also leak through the damaged kidney filter leading to blood in the urine.


Does Kidney Failure Cause Pain?

Though kidney failure does not cause any pain, it can cause pain in the joints, back, below the ribs, side of the abdomen, and groin region.


Is Drinking Water Before Bedtime Bad for the Kidneys?

Drinking water just before bedtime increases the risk of interrupted sleep due to waking up amidst sleep to urinate. Hence a gap of at least two hours is recommended between the last glass of water and bedtime. Otherwise, having water before sleep does not affect kidney health.


Should You Drink More Water to Prevent Kidney Disease?

Drinking plenty of water is good for the kidneys and body. Eight glasses of water per day are the recommended amount of water for an adult’s body needs. This can vary based on other conditions like activity, sun exposure, pregnancy, etc. Apart from this, drinking water whenever feeling thirsty prevents dehydration. However, abnormally high amounts of water can also increase the load on kidneys.


Is Kidney Damage Curable?

Acute kidney damage is curable. The underlying cause has to be corrected, and short-term dialysis may be needed. In chronic kidney failure conditions, correction of the underlying causative factor slows down the progression of the disease, but it cannot be cured. Once the kidney function falls below 10% of its normal capability, there is no cure other than a kidney transplant or lifelong dialysis.


What Foods Are Good for Kidney Failure?

Foods with low potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and water content are suitable for people with existing kidney disease. It helps slow down kidney disease. Cauliflower, cabbage, garlic, onions, bell peppers, cranberries, blueberries, apple, cherry, red grapes, strawberries, egg white, fish, olive oil, rice, and corn are good for the kidneys. Excess protein consumption must be avoided. A sugar and salt-free diet are good for people with added diabetes or hypertension.


How to Revive Kidney Failure?

Acute kidney failure is correctable with the management of medical conditions responsible for kidney damage. Based on the cause, any of the following medications and treatment methods might be suggested for its treatment:
- Diuretics.
- Intravenous fluids.
- Calcium infusion.
- Calcium or Sodium Polystyrene Gluconate to prevent potassium build-up.
- Short-term dialysis.
Chronic kidney failure is not treatable, but the loss of kidney function can be slowed down. Dialysis is an available treatment modality where the blood is filtered out artificially with the help of machines (dialyzer) to remove the toxin build-up. This is known as hemodialysis. In most cases, it is performed thrice a week. In the case of peritoneal dialysis, blood purification is performed with dialyzing solutions and catheters at home. The last treatment option is kidney transplants.
Dr. Anshul Varshney
Dr. Anshul Varshney

Internal Medicine


kidney failure
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