What is kidney failure and how do you spot it?

28 March 2019, Tim Burton - 

Our kidneys are vital to our health. They play a key role in getting rid of waste products from the body and if they stop working properly, the waste products build up, which can lead to a number of health problems. This is known as kidney failure.

Here’s your guide to kidney failure and the two types of the disease you need to know about.

The two types of kidney failure

The two types of kidney failure are acute kidney failure and chronic kidney failure.

Acute kidney failure is a sudden (few hours to days) loss in kidney function that is often temporary.  It is common in patients who are hospitalised such as after an operation or serious illness. It can also happen following blood loss, a fall in blood pressure, or severe dehydration. If the problem persists, the kidneys can become permanently damaged and result in chronic kidney failure.

Chronic kidney failure isn’t usually caused by a dramatic event but builds up over time. It’s often caused by diseases that cause a gradual loss of kidney function, such as diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure). More infrequently, it can be caused by recurrent blockages of the urinary tract such as recurrent kidney stones or long-term use of pain medication. Unhealthy lifestyles that involve over eating and lack of exercise can lead to conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, which in turn can lead to kidney damage.

In both cases, kidney disease can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Being aware of the symptoms means you can be treated quicker

The symptoms of acute kidney failure can involve nausea and vomiting, swollen ankles, feet, and legs, less frequent urination, drowsiness, lethargy, and changes in mood.

Because chronic kidney failure can build up over time, it’s very important that you are aware of the symptoms, especially if you have kidney problems.

The list of symptoms for chronic kidney failure includes

  • Tiredness
  • General itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Breathlessness
  • Fluid retention (ankle swelling)
  • Weakness
  • Needing to pee more frequently than usual, especially at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Headache
  • Peeing more or less than you’re used to
  • Muscle twitching

If you notice any of these symptoms, go and see your GP right away. There are numerous treatment options available for kidney disease but the sooner you get to the GP, the better.

For more information about kidney disease, including information about diagnosis and treatment, take a look at our Urology Health Page.


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