Liver Support



Kidney failure is when your kidneys don’t work as they should. The kidneys clean the blood and make urine. They also level out the fluids in your body.

The 2 types are:

  • Acute kidney injury (AKI)—happens quickly
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)—happens over a long time
Anatomy of the Kidney
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


AKI is usually the result an injury, infection, or a toxin. Many long term health problems cause kidney function to decline over time. This causes wastes and fluids to build up in your blood.

The 2 most common causes are:

  • Diabetes—harms the tiny tubules that filter blood
  • High blood pressure —harms the blood vessels

Other common causes:

  • A kidney infection— pyelonephritis
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Genetic diseases such as polycystic kidney disease
  • Narrowed blood vessels— bilateral renal artery stenosis
  • Structural problems—some may exist at birth
  • Medicines or drugs
  • Dyes given for x-rays

Risk Factors

Your risk is higher if you have:

  • Long term health conditions
  • Certain structural problems
  • Autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Cancer
  • Severe trauma
  • Infections such as HIV
  • Long term use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Blood volume problems caused by burns , bleeding, or dehydration
  • Blockage in the urinary tract from an enlarged prostate , kidney stones , or tumors
  • Recent heart surgery



Symptoms are usually not present in early stages. Later stages may cause:

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Puffiness around face
  • Itchy skin
  • Muscle cramps and twitches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Urinary problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling tired
  • Changes in mental state
  • Seizures
  • Coma


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may also have:

  • A physical exam
  • Urine tests to look for blood, certain proteins, or other markers
  • Blood tests to look for certain proteins or other markers, or count blood cells
  • Renal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Kidney biopsy



Care focuses on slowing the process of disease. It can also help limit further damage. You will need care for other health problems that cause stress on your kidneys.

Care for AKI will focus on the cause such as treating an infection. You may get healthy enough for your kidneys to work normally.

Lifestyle Changes

Making changes may help your kidneys stay healthier longer. These may involve:

  • Watching your intake of fluids
  • Making nutritional changes such as restricting protein, cholesterol, salt, or potassium
  • Being as active as you can be
  • Checking your weight daily to watch fluid levels
  • Checking your blood pressure at home
  • Changing how you use pain medicine
  • Following your care plan for diabetes or high blood pressure


Medicines help manage:

  • The balance of salt, minerals, and fluids in your body
  • Blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Anemia

Your doctor may also change medicines you take if they harm your kidneys.


Dialysis takes over the work of the kidneys. You may need it for a short time while they heal. Some people need it for life. Others use it until a kidney transplant is ready.

There are 2 main types:

  • Hemodialysis —Blood with wastes is taken from the body and filtered through a machine. Clean blood is returned to the body.
  • Peritoneal dialysis —A cleansing fluid fills the space in the belly. Wastes are drawn from the blood into the fluid. The fluid then drains out of the body.

Kidney Transplant

A transplant may work for some people. A healthy kidney comes from a donor. It’s placed next to the existing kidney during surgery. The new kidney should work well enough for you to stop dialysis.

An effective transplant may depend on the cause of kidney damage and your overall health.


To lower your chances of kidney problems:

  • Follow your care plans if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Don’t use medicines that cause harm to your kidneys. Your doctor will make changes as needed.
  • Use NSAIDs as advised.
  • Drink only in moderation. Moderation is 2 drinks a day or less for men or 1 drink a day or less for women.
  • If you’re at high risk for kidney problems, see your doctor as advised.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Renal Failure; Renal Insufficiency)


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https// 

National Kidney Foundation 


Health Canada 

The Kidney Foundation of Canada 


Acute kidney injury. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  . Updated April 26, 2018. Accessed June 6, 2018.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  . Updated March 27, 2018. Accessed June 6, 2018.

Gaitonde DY, Cook DL, Rivera IM. Chronic kidney disease: detection and evaluation. Am Fam Physician. 2017;96(12):776-783.

Kidney failure. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Accessed June 6, 2018.

Snivel CS, Gutierrez C. Chronic kidney disease: prevention and treatment of common complications. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(10):1921-1928.

Use of herbal supplements in chronic kidney disease. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 6, 2018.

Your kidneys and how they work. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Updated March 2014. Accessed June 6, 2018.

1/4/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance  : Deved V, Poyah P, James MT, et al. Ascorbic acid for anemia management in hemodialysis patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Kidney Dis. 2009;54(6):1089-1097.

10/10/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance  : Di lorio B, Molony D, Bell C, et al. Sevelamer versus calcium carbonate in incident hemodialysis patients: Results of an open-label 24-month randomized clinical trial. Am J Kidney Dis. 2013;62(4):771-778.