Chronic Renal Failure

What is chronic renal failure?

Chronic kidney disease is a decrease in the kidneys' ability to filter waste and fluid from the blood. 'Chronic' means that this condition develops over a long period of time and is not reversible. Certain medical conditions can harm the kidneys over time, including diabetes, high blood pressure or a long-lasting inflammation of the kidneys. Early symptoms of reduced kidney function include urinating more frequently, high blood pressure and swelling of the legs. Because the condition takes some time to develop, it most commonly affects older people. Women are affected slightly more commonly than men. Treatment consists of managing the underlying condition and supporting the kidney function. Chronic kidney disease requires careful, lifelong management.

Risks

Chronic renal failure mostly occurs in people who have other medical conditions which cause damage to the small units in the kidneys which are responsible for filtering waste and fluid from the blood. This includes very common conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and less common reasons, such as polycystic kidney disease, inflammation of the kidneys, repeated kidney infections, and frequent kidney stones. People who have some malformation of their kidneys or urinary tract, are at higher risk of eventually developing chronic kidney disease. Once the kidneys have lost a significant amount of function, they may not be able to recover. Chronic kidney disease is most common in older people, and tends to affect women slightly more commonly than men.

Symptoms

In the early stage of chronic kidney disease, affected people may experience the urge to urinate more frequently. The urine may be pale and foamy. Another common symptom is high blood pressure and swelling of the legs. As the condition progresses, affected people may develop other symptoms such as nausea, weight loss, tiredness and muscle cramps. The skin may get dry and become itchy all over. Affected individuals may also notice brown spots on their skin. Swelling may get worse, and affect the face.

Diagnosis

The kidney function can be tested by taking blood and urine samples. Additionally, an ultrasound of the kidneys and urinary tract may be necessary. In some cases, there may be necessary to take a small sample of the kidney (a biopsy) in order to find the underlying cause for the condition.

Treatment

Treatment involves controlling the disease that is harming the kidneys. People with high blood pressure or diabetes should make sure that these conditions are well controlled. It may also be helpful to review medications with a doctor, and replace or stop any medications which can damage the kidneys. Other medical conditions involving the kidneys can be managed with the help of a nephrologist (a specialist kidney doctor). People with kidneys which no longer work well enough to filter blood and fluid may need dialysis, a process by which the blood is cleaned by a machine. Kidney transplantation may be an option for some people.

Prevention

Good control of medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes is important in preventing chronic renal failure. Regular check-ups, taking medication properly, and quitting smoking can help to prevent chronic kidney disease.

Other names for chronic renal failure

  • Chronic kidney failure