Kidney Failure
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Kidney Failure

Your kidneys make up part of your body's filtration and waste elimination system. When they stop working efficiently or cease to function at all, this is known as kidney failure. Kidney failure is a life-threatening illness that requires immediate and often prolonged care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 500,000 Americans will suffer from the disorder each year.

Causes

Kidney failure has a variety of causes including but not limited to:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Complications during pregnancy
  • Clots within the blood vessels of the kidneys
  • Excessive or prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Severe illness
  • Excessive or prolonged dehydration
  • Injury caused during surgery
  • Internal bleeding
  • Physical trauma causing damage to the kidneys
  • Acute tubular necrosis
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Restricted blood flow to the kidneys
  • Untreated urinary tract infections

Symptoms

In its earliest stages, kidney failure may not present any symptoms. As the condition worsens, the body becomes less able to maintain a healthy fluid to electrolyte ratio, eliminate toxins and waste and assist in the production of red blood cells. At this point, symptoms such as shortness of breath, edema (swelling), physical weakness and low energy may show up. These early warning signs can be easily mistaken for a number of other health problems.

As kidney failure become more severe, metabolic acidosis will result. This is caused by the body's inability to produce bicarbonate and changes the way it metabolizes oxygen and enzymes. Eventually, this may cause other organs to fail. Because failing kidneys are unable to regulate rising acidity levels in the body, breathing becomes rapid as the body tries to reduce acidity by releasing carbon dioxide.

Kidney failure may also result in fatal heart problems. When the kidneys cannot eliminate excessive potassium, dangerous cardiac arrhythmias can develop. Similarly, the rise in blood pressure may deposit excess fluid into the lungs, eventually resulting in congestive heart failure.

Besides these very serious symptoms, many victims of kidney failure experience a decrease in cognitive and neurological function. This is due mostly to a buildup of toxins and waste products, which negatively affect the brain and can eventually cause the patient to fall into a coma.

Other common symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Anemia
  • Inflammation of the heart's lining (pericardium)
  • Irregular heartbeat

Treatment

While prevention is always the best medicine, it does little to help once kidney failure is established. If underlying illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure are to blame, these must first be brought under control through strict lifestyle changes.

After kidney failure is diagnosed, the prime directive is to prevent it from worsening. Diet is the most recommended course of treatment. People whose kidneys do not work well are unable to process certain foods well. It is recommended to strictly limit the consumption of sodium, phosphorous and potassium because the body is no longer able to efficiently get rid of excess. This can make it dangerous to consume many fruits and vegetables, processed foods and milk, cheese or nuts.