Public Release: 

When kidneys fail

Mayo Clinic

When was the last time you considered your kidney health? How about never? You're not alone. Most people take their kidneys for granted. Yet more than a quarter of a million people in this country need dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive. In addition, more than 50,000 people die from kidney failure each year.

Kidney failure can be caused by many factors, but the most common causes are some of our country's most prevalent health problems. Uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes are the cause of almost two-thirds of kidney-failure cases. Other causes include hereditary kidney diseases, overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers, renovascular disease, or kidney inflammation due to a non-kidney infection or immune disorder.

In the early stages of kidney failure you may not even feel sick, or you may have vague symptoms such as fatigue or nausea. As kidney function deteriorates, you may experience weight loss, decreased urine output, high blood pressure, swelling of the feet and hands, muscle twitches or cramps, difficulty concentrating or a yellowish-brown skin tone. Your doctor can order blood and urine tests, as well as imaging tests like ultrasound, CT or MRI scans, to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Kidney failure cannot be cured, but if you are diagnosed with it early you may be able to slow the onset of the disease. Controlling diabetes and high blood pressure are the top health priorities. A proper diet as prescribed by your physician is also extremely important. Patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which is defined as a loss of 85 to 90 percent of kidney function, will need dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to survive.

More information about kidney failure, including specifics about in-home kidney dialysis, is available in February's Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.

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