Kidney failure facts
- Kidneys are the organs that filter waste products from the blood. They are also involved in regulating blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and red blood cell production in the body.
- Symptoms of kidney failure are due to the build-up of waste products and excess fluid in the body that may cause weakness, shortness of breath, lethargy, swelling, and confusion. Inability to remove potassium from the bloodstream may lead to abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death. Initially kidney failure may cause no symptoms.
- There are numerous causes of kidney failure, and treatment of the underlying disease may be the first step in correcting the kidney abnormality.
- Some causes of kidney failure are treatable and the kidney function may return to normal. Unfortunately, kidney failure may be progressive in other situations and may be irreversible.
- The diagnosis of kidney failure usually is made by blood tests measuring BUN, creatinine, and glomerular filtration rate (GFR).
- Treatment of the underlying cause of kidney failure may return kidney function to normal. Lifelong efforts to control blood pressure and diabetes may be the best way to prevent chronic kidney disease and its progression to kidney failure. As we age kidney function gradually decreases over time.
- If the kidneys fail completely, the only treatment options available may be dialysis or transplant.
What are the kidneys?
The kidneys play key roles in body function, not only by filtering the blood and getting rid of waste products, but also by balancing the electrolyte levels in the body, controlling blood pressure, and stimulating the production of red blood cells.
The kidneys are located in the abdomen toward the back, normally one on each side of the spine. They get their blood supply through the renal arteries directly from the aorta and send blood back to the heart via the renal veins to the vena cava. (The term “renal” is derived from the Latin name for kidney.)
The kidneys have the ability to monitor the amount of body fluid, the concentrations of electrolytes like sodium and potassium, and the acid-base balance of the body. They filter waste products of body metabolism, like urea from protein metabolism and uric acid from DNA breakdown. Two waste products in the blood usually are measured; 1) blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and 2) creatinine (Cr).