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What is Kidney Failure?

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs located under the ribs near the spine. They work to remove waste and excess fluids from the body through the urine. When the kidneys are no longer working well enough for a person to live without interventions such as dialysis or a kidney transplant, it is considered kidney failure. Kidney (sometimes called renal) failure can happen suddenly, usually after surgery or an injury to the kidneys. It can also happen slowly after many years of chronic kidney disease.

The most common causes of kidney failure by far are diabetes and high blood pressure. Some other causes of chronic kidney disease are conditions such as HIV or polycystic kidney disease, inherited problems with the kidneys, or large amounts of drugs or medications that damage the kidneys.

The symptoms of kidney failure are extremely varied and depend on whether the kidney failure happened suddenly or over time. Some of the more common symptoms are fluid retention and swelling, decreased urine output, shortness of breath, fatigue, and itching as toxins begin to build up in the body.

A doctor can check kidney function with blood tests to see how well the kidneys are filtering the blood, urine tests to check for the presence of blood or protein, or blood pressure tests. High blood pressure can cause kidney disease, but kidney failure can also cause high blood pressure.

Kidney failure is a serious condition. Sometimes, if the condition happened suddenly, the problem that caused the kidney failure can be reversed and the patient can recover. More often, patients with kidney failure will rely on dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay healthy.