Chronic Kidney Failure

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Chronic Kidney Failure



Chronic kidney failure occurs when disease or disorder damages the kidneys so that they are no longer capable of adequately removing fluids and wastes from the body or of maintaining the proper level of certain kidney-regulated chemicals in the bloodstream.


Chronic kidney failure, also known as chronic renal failure, affects over 250,000 Americans annually. It is caused by a number of diseases and inherited disorders, but the progression of chronic kidney failure is always the same. The kidneys, which serve as the body's natural filtration system, gradually lose their ability to remove fluids and waste products (urea) from the bloodstream. They also fail to regulate certain chemicals in the bloodstream, and deposit protein into the urine. Chronic kidney failure is irreversible, and will eventually lead to total kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Without proper treatment intervention to remove wastes and fluids from the bloodstream, ESRD is fatal.

Causes and symptoms

Kidney failure is triggered by disease or a hereditary disorder in the kidneys. Both kidneys are typically affected. The four most common causes of chronic kidney failure include:
  • Diabetes. Diabetes mellitus (DM), both insulin dependant (IDDM) and non-insulin dependant (NIDDM), occurs when the body cannot produce and/or use insulin, the hormone necessary for the body to process glucose. Long-term diabetes may cause the glomeruli, the filtering units located in the nephrons of the kidneys, to gradually lose functioning.
  • Glomerulonephritis. Glomerulonephritis is a chronic inflammation of the glomeruli, or filtering units of the kidney. Certain types of glomerulonephritis are treatable, and may only cause a temporary disruption of kidney functioning.
  • Hypertension. High blood pressure is unique in that it is both a cause and a major symptom of kidney failure. The kidneys can become stressed and ultimately sustain permanent damage from blood pushing through them at an excessive level of pressure over a long period of time.
  • Polycystic kidney disease. Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited disorder that causes cysts to be formed on the nephrons, or functioning units, of the kidneys. The cysts hamper the regular functioning of the kidney.
Other possible causes of chronic kidney failure include kidney cancer, obstructions such as kidney stones, pyelonephritis, reflux nephropathy, systemic lupus erythematosus, amyloidosis, sickle cell anemia, Alport syndrome, and oxalosis.
Initially, symptoms of chronic kidney failure develop slowly. Even individuals with mild to moderate kidney failure may show few symtpoms in spite of increased urea in their blood. Among the symptoms that may be present at this point are frequent urination during the night and high blood pressure.
Most symptoms of chronic kidney failure are not apparent until kidney disease has progressed significantly. Common symptoms include:
  • Anemia. The kidneys are responsible for the production of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone which stimulates red cell production. If kidney disease causes shrinking of the kidney, this red blood cell production is hampered.
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in mouth. Urea, or waste products, in the saliva may cause an ammonia-like taste in the mouth.
  • Bone and joint problems. The kidneys produce vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium and keeps bones strong. For patients with kidney failure, bones may become brittle, and in the case of children, normal growth may be stunted. Joint pain may also occur as a result of unchecked phosphate levels in the blood.
  • Edema. Puffiness or swelling around the eyes, arms, hands, and feet.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Foamy or bloody urine. Protein in the urine may cause it to foam significantly. Blood in the urine may indicate bleeding from diseased or obstructed kidneys, bladder, or ureters.
  • Headaches. High blood pressure may trigger headaches.
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure. The retention of fluids and wastes causes blood volume to increase, which in turn, causes blood pressure to rise.
  • Increased fatigue. Toxic substances in the blood and the presence of anemia may cause feelings of exhaustion.
  • Itching. Phosphorus, which is typically eliminated in the urine, accumulates in the blood of patients with kidney failure. This heightened phosphorus level may cause itching of the skin.
  • Lower back pain. Pain where the kidneys are located, in the small of the back below the ribs.
  • Nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting. Urea in the gastric juices may cause upset stomach. This can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.


Kidney failure is typically diagnosed and treated by a nephrologist, a doctor that specializes in treating the kidneys. The patient that is suspected of having chronic kidney failure will undergo an extensive blood work-up. A blood test will assess the levels of creatinine, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), uric acid, phosphate, sodium, and potassium in the blood. Urine samples will also be collected, usually over a 24-hour period, to assess protein loss.
Uncovering the cause of kidney failure is critical to proper treatment. A full assessment of the kidneys is necessary to determine if the underlying disease is treatable and if the kidney failure is chronic or acute. An x ray, MRI, computed tomography scan, ultrasound, renal biopsy, and/or arteriogram of the kidneys may be employed to determine the cause of kidney failure and level of remaining kidney function. X rays and ultrasound of the bladder and/or ureters may also be taken.


Chronic kidney failure is an irreversible condition. Hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, or kidney transplantation must be employed to replace the lost function of the kidneys. In addition, dietary changes and treatment to relieve specific symptoms such as anemia and high blood pressure are critical to the treatment process.


Hemodialysis is the most frequently prescribed type of dialysis treatment in the United States. Most hemodialysis patients require treatment three times a week, for an average of three to four hours per dialysis "run" depending on the type of dialyzer used and their current physical condition. The treatment involves circulating the patient's blood outside of the body through an extracorporeal circuit (ECC), or dialysis circuit. The dialysis circuit consists of plastic blood tubing, a two-compartment filter known as a dialyzer, or artificial kidney, and a dialysis machine that monitors and maintains blood flow and administers dialysate, a chemical bath used to draw waste products out of the blood. The patient's blood leaves and enters the body through two needles inserted into the patient's vein, called an access site, and is pushed through the blood compartment of the dialyzer. Once inside of the dialyzer, excess fluids and toxins are pulled out of the bloodstream and into the dialysate compartment, where they are carried out of the body. At the same time, electrolytes and other chemicals in the dialysate solution move from the dialysate into the bloodstream. The purified, chemically-balanced blood is then returned to the body.

Peritoneal dialysis

In peritoneal dialysis (PD), the patient's peritoneum, or lining of the abdomen, acts as a blood filter. A catheter is surgically inserted into the patient's abdomen. During treatment, the catheter is used to fill the abdominal cavity with dialysate. Waste products and excess fluids move from the patient's blood-stream into the dialysate solution. After a waiting period of six to 24 hours, depending on the treatment method used, the waste-filled dialysate is drained from the abdomen, and replaced with clean dialysate. There are three types of peritoneal dialysis, which vary by treatment time and administration method: Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD), Continuous Cyclic Peritoneal Dialysis (CCPD), and Intermittent Peritoneal Dialysis (IPD).

Kidney transplantation

Kidney transplantation involves surgically attaching a functioning kidney, or graft, from a brain dead organ donor (a cadaver transplant), or from a living donor, to a patient with ESRD. Patients with chronic renal disease who need a transplant and don't have a living donor register with UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), the federal organ procurement agency, to be placed on a waiting list for a cadaver kidney transplant. Kidney availability is based on the patient's health status. When the new kidney is transplanted, the patient's existing, diseased kidneys may or may not be removed, depending on the circumstances surrounding the kidney failure. A regimen of immunosuppressive, or anti-rejection medication, is required after transplantation surgery.

Dietary management

A diet low in sodium, potassium, and phosphorous, three substances that the kidneys regulate, is critical in managing kidney disease. Other dietary restrictions, such as a reduction in protein, may be prescribed depending on the cause of kidney failure and the type of dialysis treatment employed. Patients with chronic kidney failure also need to limit their fluid intake.

Medications and dietary supplements

Kidney failure patients with hypertension typically take medication to control their high blood pressure. Epoetin alfa, or EPO (Epogen), a hormone therapy, and intravenous or oral iron supplements are used to manage anemia. A multivitamin may be prescribed to replace vitamins lost during dialysis treatments. Vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of calcium, along with calcium supplements, may also be prescribed.
Since 1973, Medicare has picked up 80% of ESRD treatment costs, including the costs of dialysis and transplantation and of some medications. To qualify for benefits, a patient must be insured or eligible for benefits under Social Security, or be a spouse or child of an eligible American. Private insurance and state Medicaid programs often cover the remaining 20% of treatment costs.

Key terms

End-stage renal disease (ESRD) — Total kidney failure; chronic kidney failure is diagnosed as ESRD when kidney function falls to 5-10% of capacity.
Nephrotic syndrome — Characterized by protein loss in the urine, low protein levels in the blood, and fluid retention.
Ureters — The two ducts that pass urine from each kidney to the bladder.


Early diagnosis and treatment of kidney failure is critical to improving length and quality of life in chronic kidney failure patients. Patient outcome varies by the cause of chronic kidney failure and the method chosen to treat it. Overall, patients with chronic kidney disease leading to ESRD have a shortened lifespan. According to the United States Renal Data System (USRDS), the lifespan of an ESRD patient is 18-47% of the lifespan of the age-sex-race matched general population. ESRD patients on dialysis have a lifespan that is 16-37% of the general population.
The demand for kidneys to transplant continues to exceed supply. In 1996, over 34,000 Americans were on the UNOS waiting list for a kidney transplant, but only 11,330 living donor and cadaver transplants were actually performed. Cadaver kidney transplants have a 50% chance of functioning nine years, and living donor kidneys that have two matching antigen pairs have a 50% chance of functioning for 24 years. However, some transplant grafts have functioned for over 30 years.



American Association of Kidney Patients. 100 S. Ashley Drive, #280, Tampa, FL 33602. (800) 749-2257.
American Kidney Fund (AKF). Suite 1010, 6110 Executive Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20852. (800) 638-8299. 〈〉.
National Kidney Foundation. 30 East 33rd St., New York, NY 10016. (800) 622-9010.
United States Renal Data System (USRDS). The University of Michigan, 315 W. Huron, Suite 240, Ann Arbor, MI 48103. (734) 998-6611. 〈〉.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

chronic renal failure

A spectrum of severe renal diseases ranging from non-dialysis-dependent chronic kidney disease in patients don’t require renal replacement therapy (i.e., dialysis or renal transplant), to those with end-stage kidney disease who do.

Diabetes, hypertension, glomerulonephritis.

Clinical findings, external
Dehydration, oedema, anaemia, sallow colour, pruritis, brown discolouration of nails, bruising (abnormal platelets); other findings may include cutaneous vasculitic lesions, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, spina bifida or other causes of neurogenic bladder.

Clinical findings, internal
Hypertension, heart failure, pulmonary oedema, pleural effusions, pericardial effusion, GI bleeding due to peptic ulceration, gastritis/oesophagitis/colitis, acute pancreatitis.

Cause of death, chronic renal failure
• Convulsions;
• Coma;
• Cardiac myocyte dysfunction;
• Congestive heart failure;
• Pericarditis;
• Pericardial effusion;
• Arrhythmias;
• Tamponade;
• Left ventricular hypertrophy;
• Coronary artery disease.
• Renal cell carcinoma;
• Lymphomas;
• Hepatocellular carcinoma;
• Thyroid carcinoma.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
These fluid-restricted children with chronic kidney failure often complain of thirst and demonstrate a persistent preoccupation with water, and adherence to their fluid restriction is often an ongoing struggle.
Some of the symptoms for chronic kidney failure include itching skin, weakness, loss of appetite, poor sleeping, lack of concentration capacity, swollen ankles and feet due to fluid retention, muscle cramps and a continuous cold feeling in the body [11].
Stages of chronic kidney failure GFR STAGES DESCRIPTION (ml/min/1.72[m.sup.2]) 1 Kidney damage [greater than or equal to] 90 with normal or increased GFR 2 Kidney damage 60-89 with mild decrease in GFR 3 Moderate 30-59 decrease in GFR 4 Severe decrease 15-29 in GFR 5 Kidney failure < 15 or dialysis
A WALSALL teenager with chronic kidney failure died after failing to heed urgent warnings to change his diet, an inquest heard.
Lose of renal function can lead to acute or chronic kidney failure. In chronic failure kidneys gradually lose the ability to properly filter out waste therefore harmful toxic waste products accumulate in body, while in acute renal failure, renal functions are diminished suddenly for short period of time.2
- Is the most common cause of chronic kidney failure and end-stage kidney disease in the United States
Uncontrolled or poorly-controlled high blood pressure can cause chronic kidney failure, while diabetes is the single largest cause.
After remaining 10 days in the hospital chronic kidney failure and lungs failure further deteriorated his health condition after which he was placed on ventilator, he added.
DaVita Inc., a FORTUNE 500(R) company, is a leading provider of kidney care in the United States, delivering dialysis services and education to patients with chronic kidney failure and end stage renal disease.
Diya is suffering from chronic kidney failure caused by heavy lead poisoning -- where the level of the heavy metal increases in the body.
The setting up of the centre is part of efforts to reinforce hospital offer for people with chronic kidney failure in the prefecture of the Casablanca-Anfa districts, to bring medical care closer to citizens and to ensure care for patients who are on the waiting list in Casablanca.
Rare: Diabetes Insipidus, Chronic Kidney Failure, Aldosteronism, Hypercalcemia

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