Kidneys and Renal Failure

What Happens When The Kidneys Do Not Work

It is important to know what the kidneys do. Healthy kidneys work 24 hours a day. They take out the trash out of the body as your body builds up waste products that need to be removed. They also flush extra water out of the body in the form of urine. They balance a lot of chemicals and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium in the body, and they also manufacture chemicals and hormones which control your blood pressure and your red blood cell count. When the kidneys stop working, the trash from the body and the extra water from your body cannot be removed which makes you feel sick, swollen up, dizzy, and tired.

There are many types of kidney failure which can be fixed and there are many important measures that can be done to prevent further damage in the kidneys. Some kidney failure becomes permanent which is called end stage renal disease and these patients may need to go on dialysis or kidney transplant. The most common cause of kidney failure is diabetes and high blood pressure. Other things which can cause kidney failure are infections, any blockage in the path of the urine, diseases which affect the kidney, drugs or chemicals which cause damage to the kidney. There are some inherited diseases which run in the family, like polycystic kidney disease and hereditary nephritis. The warning signs of kidney failure, swelling of the face, feet or belly, lower back pain or aching, high blood pressure, coffee colored or bloody urine, burning that happens when the urine is passed, and tired and fatigue feeling. Advanced kidney failure can also cause shortness of breath, memory loss dizziness, sleeping problems, weight loss, and itching. Also, it can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and a bad taste in your mouth.

Every patient with diabetes and hypertension needs to have the kidney checked for any form of damage and even a minor damage to the kidney, if taken care of aggressively, may protect from further damage of the kidney leading to kidney failure. Some kidney diseases will need a kidney biopsy to find out exactly what is going on in the kidney and they could be treated appropriately.

Remember, life goes on after your kidneys stop working. You still have treatment choices including hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and a kidney transplant. Which treatment is best for you could be decided by you and the nephrologist sitting together and discussing the pros and cons of each option. Choice of treatment will depend upon your underlying kidney disease, your lifestyle, your setting at home, your physical abilities, your support system, your emotional and mental state.

Authored by: Freemu Varghese, M.D.

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