As the kidneys begin to fail or lose normal functionality, the condition known as end-stage renal disease (the term renal means having to do with the kidneys) can set in. End-stage renal disease (ESRD) or kidney failure occurs when the kidney is damaged to the point that it can no longer function normally. ESRD comes in two forms, including acute and chronic.

Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney disease, also referred to as rhabdomyolysis, can come on suddenly, often as a result of dehydration or infection and the resulting muscle breakdown. This breakdown can decrease the flow of blood and oxygen to the kidneys, lessening their ability to moderate the substances in the body. Infections and blockages in the urinary tract can also cause acute kidney failure. Acute kidney failure can be reversed in some cases.


Acute kidney failure is marked by fever, weakness and fatigue, rashes, abnormal amounts of urine, changes in appetite and digestion including vomiting, and pain in the stomach, back, abdomen or other muscles. You may also notice paler than usual skin or more frequent nosebleeds.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure occurs on an ongoing or repeated basis, and may result from kidney damage sustained from high blood sugar or blood pressure. Other conditions such as lupus, Alport syndrome, Nephrotic syndrome, polycystic kidney disease, or cystinosis can also lead to chronic kidney failure as they cause fluid, acids, or proteins to build up in the kidneys and urine.


Chronic kidney failure progresses slowly over several months, and can often lead to permanent kidney damage. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of acute kidney failure, in addition to bone pain, insomnia, headache, dry skin, irritability, trouble hearing or staying alert, and a metallic taste in your mouth.

The symptoms of kidney failure may resemble symptoms for other conditions, so to rule out other illnesses your doctor may run blood or urine tests, an ultrasound or CT scan, or a kidney biopsy.


Those with acute or chronic ESRD should work with their doctor to develop a personalized treatment plan in order to live the healthiest, most normal, life possible. Treatment plans may include hospitalization and medications delivered through an IV, changes to diet, and dialysis. The latter removes waste from the blood to prevent fluid and toxic buildup. For severe cases of ESRD, kidney transplant may be considered.

Living with Kidney Failure

Kidney failure can be life threatening, but with proper care people with kidney failure are living longer than ever. Dialysis treatment is not a cure for kidney failure, but does improve quality of life and extend life expectancy. 

Over the years, kidney failure can cause other problems such as bone disease, high blood pressure, nerve damage, and anemia (having too few red blood cells). Discuss how to prevent and treat these problems with a health care provider.

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