What Is Chronic Renal Failure?

Kidneys are important in many ways. They control the amount of water and by-products of metabolism. They get rid of waste products (make urine). They control the body’s water, blood salt, and calcium levels. In renal failure (or kidney failure), kidneys can’t get rid of the body’s waste products. Waste products and chemicals build up in the body and are harmful. Chronic renal failure is also called Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or end stage renal disease (ESRD). Acute failure occurs suddenly. Chronic kidney failure occurs slowly.

What Causes Chronic Renal Failure?

The cause is any condition that reduces the blood supply to the kidneys, blocks urine after it leaves the kidneys, or injures the kidneys. Inflammation, urinary tract infections, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure can cause it. Medications used for other medical disorders can also damage the kidneys.

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Renal Failure?

Chronic renal failure is often a silent disease and has no early symptoms. Later signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and appetite loss. Others are listless feelings; shortness of breath; mouth problems; stomach pain; numbness, tingling, and burning in legs and feet; lower sex drive; loss of menstrual periods; anemia; and muscle and bone pain. Being irritable, not sleeping well, depression, convulsions, stupor, and coma are seen; itching, abnormal blood pressure, and bleeding problems may also occur.

How Is Chronic Renal Failure Diagnosed?

The health care provider often finds impaired renal function at a routine examination that includes urine or blood tests. Additional tests will then be done to see how well the kidneys work. X-rays may also be done to check the size of the kidneys and exclude other disorders that can damage the kidneys and block flow of urine, such as kidney stones or tumors. Your health care provider may refer you to a kidney specialist (nephrologist) for additional evaluation.

How Is Chronic Renal Failure Treated?

Treatment can involve diet, medicine, dialysis, controlling diseases causing the failure, and transplantation. Foods containing potassium, phosphorous, and too much salt or protein should be avoided. Controlling blood pressure is important. Injections to correct anemia and calcium pills may be needed. Diuretics (water pills) can prevent gaining too much fluid. Your health care provider may recommend a kidney transplant. Certain drugs that can affect the kidneys must be avoided. High blood pressure, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and infections must be treated.

Some people need dialysis if other treatments don’t work. Dialysis removes waste products from the blood when kidneys can’t. Hemodialysis filters blood using a man-made filter and a machine. Peritoneal dialysis uses the natural lining of your abdomen as a filter. Dialysis may be done temporarily or permanently.

The health care provider will recommend seeing a kidney specialist on a regular basis. Another treatment for chronic kidney failure is a kidney transplant. It involves replacing the damaged kidney with a healthy one placed in your body.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Chronic Renal Failure:
  • DO follow the diet that your health care provider suggests, including fluid restriction.
  • DO take medicines exactly as prescribed. Don’t miss doses.
  • DO weigh yourself daily. Keep records of fluid intake and output.
  • DO exercise as much as you can but limit strenuous activities.
  • DO stop smoking.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have chills, fever, headache, muscle aches, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, or chest pains.
  • DON’T become dehydrated, but don’t drink water or liquids in excess. Don’t get overtired.
  • DON’T eat foods you should avoid. Too much potassium can make you very ill.
  • DON’T take over-the-counter drugs without checking with your health care provider.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Kidney Foundation
    Tel: (800) 622-9010
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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