Straight, No Chaser: Kidney (Renal) Failure

We take our kidneys for granted. They are truly remarkable organs. In this Straight, No Chaser, we will review kidney function and explain kidney failure. Additional posts will address treatment of kidney failure, including dialysis and kidney transplantation. A review of kidney stones is available in an earlier Straight, No Chaser.


You probably know that the kidneys are key to the body removing waste and excess fluids and minerals. You may not have been aware of just how efficient your two kidneys are: they filter the body’s entire blood supply every thirty minutes. In fact, they are so efficient that you can lose one and still be able to have normal overall function. Healthy kidneys also make hormones that keep your bones strong and your blood healthy.


Damaged kidneys and kidney failure are pretty simple to understand. When the kidneys aren’t working properly, there are consequences to those wastes and that excess fluid accumulating throughout the body. Blood pressure may rise, as the heart has more fluid to pump around the body. Your body may retain excess fluid and not make enough red blood cells.
There are three considerations for you to understand when discussing kidney failure: acute kidney failure, chronic kidney failure and end-stage kidney failure.

kidney-failure causes

Acute kidney failure is the result of an active event such as the following:

  • an abrupt drop in the blood supply to the kidneys
  • obstruction
  • physical trauma
  • severe infection
  • use of certain drugs

If the underlying problem causing acute kidney failure is sufficiently treated, complete recovery of the kidneys is possible.
Chronic kidney failure occurs over years and can be the consequence of many processes, including uncontrolled diabetes, drug use or hypertension. It can cause anemia (low blood cell count), decreased mental sharpness, fatigue, headaches, muscle twitches and cramps, nausea and vomiting, trouble sleeping, unusual itching, weight loss and a yellowish-brown skin color.
End-stage kidney disease represents such a level of dysfunction that your life could be at risk without appropriate attention being given to your disease. It causes or exacerbates anemia, high blood pressure, bone disease, heart failure, and can lead to poor mental functioning.


The kidneys are pretty good at displaying signs of distress if you’re willing to pay attention. See your physician if you develop any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • pain or burning when you urinate,
  • frequent urges to urinate,
  • urine that is cloudy or dark,
  • fever or a feeling of shakiness along with back pain, or
  • pain in your back or side below your ribs that does not go away.

As mentioned, avoidance of illicit drugs, taking prescribed medicines as directed, and treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes can help prevent kidney disease.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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