Authored by Revere Health

Kidney Failure

January 5, 2017 | Neurology

Kidney Failure

The Symptoms, Causes and Treatments of Kidney Disease

No matter how healthy you might be, there’s always waste in your body that needs to be removed. Even healthy foods and drinks come with elements that the body doesn’t need or use, and everything from the air we breathe to any other substances we put in our bodies can create similar waste.

This is what the kidneys are for. They filter waste out of our blood, and maintain the balance of oxygen and other necessary elements in the body.

Complications in kidney function can have serious effects. Kidney failure, commonly referred to as acute kidney injury or acute renal failure, can cause chemical imbalances in the blood as waste isn’t eliminated in the usual way.


Sometimes, kidney failure has no visible symptoms, which is part of what makes it so dangerous. In these cases, it is usually detected by a different test.

Most cases do present symptoms, though, and they can include:

  • Trouble urinating or less urine output
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling caused by fluid buildup
  • Tiredness and confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Back pain near rib cage

Causes and Risk Factors

Three different factors can cause kidney failure including:

  • 1. Kidney damage: There are over a dozen different elements that can cause enough damage in the kidney and lead to kidney failure. Some of the most common are infections, blood clots, cholesterol deposits and toxins from drugs or alcohol.
  • 2. Blocked blood flow: If the kidneys aren’t receiving enough blood, their functions can be affected.  Sometimes this is caused by a blood clot or heart attack, and in others it’s caused by infection or liver failure. Certain medications or allergies also may cause blocked blood flow to the kidneys.
  • 3. Urinary blockages: If the kidney can’t send urine out to get rid of the waste that it’s processed, this can cause kidney failure. Many forms of cancer lead to urinary blockages, as do kidney stones or an enlarged prostate. These are issues that are checked yearly in people past a certain age.

Nearly all cases of kidney failure are connected to another medical condition. Some conditions that can increase risk include:

  • Age (older means higher risk)
  • Heart, liver or kidney diseases
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Serious illness resulting in hospitalization
  • Peripheral artery disease (blocked blood vessels)

Possible Complications

Depending on treatment and how early you catch it, kidney failure can have moderate to severe consequences including:

  • Chest pain
  • Fluid buildup in lungs, breathing issues
  • Permanent damage to kidneys – called end-stage renal disease. People with end-stage renal disease need either a dialysis machine to help with kidney function or a kidney transplant to sustain functions.
  • Muscle weakness
  • Death – risk of death in kidney failure is much higher for people with previous kidney problems


Kidney failure often isn’t diagnosed until one is already in the hospital for another reason, and unfortunately, there are limited ways to detect it in a preventive sense. Most preventive techniques involve healthy life habits like diet, exercise and limited substance intake.

Treatment for kidney failure varies from person to person. It’s aimed at reducing or eliminating the original problem that’s causing the kidney failure. There are two general goals of treatment in most cases:

  • Stopping further issues, including infections or mineral balance issues
  • Stopping waste buildup in the body, sometimes through dialysis

Medications are sometimes prescribed (though, not always, since some medications may contribute to kidney failure). Your doctor might also tell you to lower your intake of sodium, potassium and phosphorous.

Are you concerned about your kidney function? Talk with your primary care physician about seeing a nephrology specialist.



The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.