Renal failure or kidney failure (formerly called renal insufficiency) describes a medical condition in which the kidneys fail to adequately filter toxins and waste products from the blood. The two forms are acute (acute kidney injury) and chronic (chronic kidney disease); a number of other diseases or health problems may cause either form of renal failure to occur.
Renal failure is described as a decrease in the glomerular filtration rate. Biochemically, renal failure is typically detected by an elevated serum creatinine level. Problems frequently encountered in kidney malfunction include abnormal fluid levels in the body, deranged acid levels, abnormal levels of potassium, calcium, phosphate, and (in the longer term) anemia. Depending on the cause, hematuria (blood loss in the urine) and proteinuria (protein loss in the urine) may occur. Long-term kidney problems have significant repercussions on other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.
Symptoms can vary from person to person. Someone in early stage kidney disease may not feel sick or notice symptoms as they occur. When kidneys fail to filter properly, waste accumulates in the blood and the body, a condition called azotemia. Very low levels of azotaemia may produce few, if any, symptoms. If the disease progresses, symptoms become noticeable (if the failure is of sufficient degree to cause symptoms). Renal failure accompanied by noticeable symptoms is termed uraemia.
Symptoms of kidney failure include:
High levels of urea in the blood, which can result in:
Vomiting and/or diarrhea, which may lead to dehydration/ Nausea/ Weight loss, Nocturnal urination, Foamy or bubbly urine/ More frequent urination, or in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine, Less frequent urination, or in smaller amounts than usual, with dark coloured urine, Blood in the urine/Pressure, or difficulty urinating, Unusual amounts of urination, usually in large quantities.
A build-up of phosphates in the blood that diseased kidneys cannot filter out, and may cause:
Itching, Bone damage, Muscle cramps (caused by low levels of calcium which can cause hypocalcaemia).
A build-up of potassium in the blood that diseased kidneys cannot filter out (called hyperkalemia), and may cause:
Abnormal heart rhythms, muscle paralysis.
Failure of kidneys to remove excess fluid, and may cause:
Swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, face and/or hands, Shortness of breath due to extra fluid on the lungs (may also be caused by anemia).
Polycystic kidney disease, which causes large, fluid-filled cysts on the kidneys and sometimes the liver, can cause:
Pain in the back or side.
Healthy kidneys produce the hormone erythropoietin which stimulates the bone marrow to make oxygen-carrying red blood cells. As the kidneys fail, they produce less erythropoietin, resulting in decreased production of red blood cells to replace the natural breakdown of old red blood cells. As a result, the blood carries less hemoglobin, a condition known as anemia. This can result in:
Feeling tired and/or weak, Memory problems, Difficulty concentrating, Dizziness, Low blood pressure.
Other symptoms include: Appetite loss, a bad taste in the mouth, Difficulty sleeping, Darkening of the skin.
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CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
Acute Renal Failure
Acute kidney failure usually occurs when the blood supply to the kidneys is suddenly interrupted or when the kidneys become overloaded with toxins. Causes of acute failure include accidents, injuries, or complications from surgeries in which the kidneys are deprived of normal blood flow for extended periods of time. Heart-bypass surgery is an example of one such procedure.
Chemotherapeutics, may also cause the onset of acute kidney failure. Unlike in chronic kidney disease, however, the kidneys can often recover from acute failure, allowing the patient to resume a normal life. People suffering from acute failure require supportive treatment until their kidneys recover function, and they often remain at increased risk of developing future kidney failure.
Amongst the accidental causes of renal failure is there also the crush syndrome, when large amounts of toxins are suddenly released in the blood circulation after a long compressed limb is suddenly relieved from the pressure obstructing the blood flow through its tissues, causing ischemia. The resulting overload can lead to the clogging and the destruction of the kidneys. It is a reperfusion injury that appears after the release of the crushing pressure. The mechanism is believed to be the release into the bloodstream of muscle breakdown products - notably myoglobin, potassium and phosphorus - that are the products of rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of skeletal muscle damaged by ischemic conditions). The specific action on the kidneys is not fully understood, but may be due in part to nephrotoxic metabolites of myoglobin.
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
CKD has numerous causes. The most common is diabetes mellitus. The second most common is long-standing, uncontrolled, hypertension, or high blood pressure. Polycystic kidney disease is another well-known cause of CKD. The majority of people afflicted with polycystic kidney disease have a family history of the disease. Other genetic illnesses affect kidney function as well.
Overuse of common drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen can also cause chronic kidney damage.Some infectious diseases such as hantavirus can attack the kidneys, causing kidney failure.
The APOL1 gene has been proposed as a major genetic risk locus for a spectrum of nondiabetic renal failure in individuals of African origin, these include HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN), primary nonmonogenic forms of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, and hypertension affiliated chronic kidney disease not attributed to other etiologies. Two western Africans variants in APOL1 have been shown to associate with end stage kidney disease in African Americans and Hispanic Americans.
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Measurement for CKD
Stages of Kidney Failure
Chronic kidney failure is measured in five stages, which are calculated using a patient's GFR, or glomerular filtration rate. Stage 1 CKD is mildly diminished renal function, with few overt symptoms. Stages 2 and 3 need increasing levels of supportive care from their medical providers to slow and treat their renal dysfunction. Patients in stages 4 and 5 usually require preparation of the patient towards active treatment in order to survive. Stage 5 CKD is considered a severe illness and requires some form of renal replacement therapy (dialysis) or kidney transplant whenever feasible.
Glomerular Filtration Rate
A normal GFR varies according to many factors, including sex, age, body size and ethnicity. Renal professionals consider the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) to be the best overall index of kidney function. The National Kidney Foundation offers an easy to use on-line GFR calculator for anyone who is interested in knowing their glomerular filtration rate. (A serum creatinine level, a simple blood test, is needed to use the calculator.)
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