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Kidney failure: Top reasons why it happens; warning symptoms

By, Delhi
Aug 31, 2022 01:17 PM IST

What causes kidney failure in people – is it diabetes, hypertension or your genes? Know from experts.

Kidneys have very crucial functions to perform in the body from filtering waste and toxins to aiding in production of red blood cells while maintaining our blood pressure. When kidneys fail and lose their ability to filter out waste, the impact starts showing in our body gradually and as a result, one may suffer from numerous complications some of which can be fatal or life threatening. (Also read: 10 harmful habits that are damaging your kidneys)

When kidneys fail and lose their ability to filter out waste, the impact starts showing in our body gradually(Shutterstock)
When kidneys fail and lose their ability to filter out waste, the impact starts showing in our body gradually(Shutterstock)

There is a difference between kidney disease and chronic kidney disease; while in former the kidneys may not function properly for a temporary period, in the latter the kidneys over a period of time lose their function and eventually there is a need for dialysis or kidney transplant in stage 5 of the disease.

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There can be various reasons behind a person developing kidney disease. Diabetes and hypertension are the top causes while there could also be genetic or congenital issues with your kidney. Some infections may also cause inflammation in the kidney. The reason why kidney diseases can get serious is there are no symptoms initially and only when the impact of kidney damage starts showing on the body, one notices signs and symptoms. In case of kidney failure, dialysis and transplant is what the doctors suggest. Here's all you want to know about kidney failure.

WHAT IS KIDNEY FAILURE

"Kidney disease is a condition where your kidneys are not functioning properly and chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition in which kidneys slowly lose their function over time. It’s divided into 5 stages; stage 1 being the mildest and stage 5 the most severe. In other words, CKD is a relentlessly progressive disease where the affected individual would eventually need some sort of renal replacement therapy, either dialysis or kidney transplant, once he reaches CKD stage 5," says Dr Sashi Kiran A, Consultant Nephrologist, Yashoda Hospital Hyderabad.

One in ten people globally suffer from chronic kidney disease and kidney failure is the sixth largest cause of death around the world. The incidence and prevalence of CKD is increasing. The exact prevalence of CKD in India is not known but various sources estimate it to be between 3% (CKD, stages 4 & 5) to 17% (CKD, stages 1 to 3). The reason for this increasing trend is the concomitant increase in the incidence of diabetes and hypertension, the two main causes of CKD.

"The gradual loss of kidney functions is known as chronic kidney disease and the last stage of CKD is end stage renal/kidney failure which can become life-threatening if not addressed in time," says Dr. Nitesh Jain, Urologist, Apollo 24|7.

SYMPTOMS OF KIDNEY FAILURE

Dr Jain says in case of a chronic kidney disease, the symptoms show up at the later stage of kidney failure and this happens because with gradual kidney dysfunction, the waste in our body accumulates over time and starts impacting our daily health.

"Some of the symptoms of kidney failure are sudden loss of weight, poor appetite, swollen ankles and feet, fatigue, urinary bleeding, muscle cramps and headaches. You should consult a doctor as soon as you witness any of these symptoms," says Dr Jain.

TOP CAUSES OF KIDNEY FAILURE

Dr Sashi Kiran A, Consultant Nephrologist, Yashoda Hospital Hyderabad discuss top causes of kidney failure.

1. Diabetes and hypertension: They account for about two-third of the cases of CKD. One in 3 diabetics and one in five hypertensives may develop CKD. Why some develop and some don’t is an area of interest and research but what we know for sure is people with poorly controlled blood sugars and blood pressure are the ones who develop CKD. Hence its of paramount importance to have one’s blood sugar and blood pressure in control as this is not just protective to the kidneys but also to the heart, brain and eyes.

2. Another important cause of CKD is a group of diseases called glomerulonephritis. In these diseases we find a lot of inflammation in the kidneys leading to their damage. Most of these patients develop symptoms in the swelling of the feet and face early in the course of the disease.

3. Yet another important cause of kidney failure are inherited diseases. Polycystic kidney disease is the commonest among the inherited kidney diseases. Here the kidneys develop cysts which keep growing in size over time and damage the surrounding tissue. Unfortunately, we don’t have a cure for this disease as yet.

4. Congenital malformations in the kidney or urinary tract can lead to CKD. Patients with these diseases have a propensity to have urinary retention leading to swelling of their kidneys and are prone to develop recurrent urinary tract infections. These eventually lead to CKD.

5. Patients who have certain autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and granulamatosis polyangitis (GPA) are prone to develop CKD.

6. Apart from these, there are a variety of other causes which can lead to CKD, the most important one being abuse of painkillers (analgesics).

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON'T ADDRESS A KIDNEY PROBLEM

Dr. Nitesh Jain, Urologist, Apollo 24|7 says because our kidneys support some of the vital body functions, there can be a lot of complications because of an ailing kidney.

He lists the following complications arising out of failed kidneys:

1. Complications with the purification of blood: Since the kidney serves as the filter house of our body, impared kidney function leads to increased levels of toxicity in the blood. Other chemicals such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus which are essential to the body are also balanced by the kidney. But with improper functioning kidneys, these chemicals do not get filtered adequately and hinder our normal body functions.

2. Uremia: The buildup of waste products and excess water in the body leads to a condition called uremia which may cause seizure, coma or can even be life-threatening.

3. Low red blood cells count: Proper functioning kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin. With impaired kidney functions, the production of this hormone will decline because erythropoietin hormone signals the body to create red blood cells.

TREATMENT FOR KIDNEY FAILURE

When the kidneys collapse, doctors and healthcare professionals find alternate ways of filtering this toxic waste from the body. The two methods of treating kidney failure are dialysis and transplant. Dr. Nitesh Jain explains in detail how they work and which one is better.

Dialysis

It is the process of filtering waste out of the body through the use of an external machine known as a Dialyser. Through this process, healthcare professionals remove waste, extra water and salts from the body. Through dialysis, doctors keep the necessary chemicals at a safe level so that they don't cause harm to the body.

Transplant

In this method of treating kidney failure, doctors transplant a healthy functioning kidney in place of the damaged one, restoring normal body functions.

Dialysis vs Transplant: Benefits and drawbacks of each treatment option

In dialysis, the biggest advantage is that it can be started immediately as soon as kidney failure is detected. As opposed to transplant, which involves long waiting time, dialysis can be performed without any delay. However, dialysis is a recurring process since the waste products in the body need to be filtered out at regular intervals.

In case of transplant, it is a more advanced treatment option for kidney failure patients and prolongs the patient’s life significantly as compared to dialysis. However, the waiting time to arrange a kidney to be transplanted, is a challenge that healthcare professionals have been dealing with for quite some time.

Life after a transplant

Normal and healthy body functions are restored after a kidney transplant but the patient has to consume anti-rejection medication for the rest of his or her life. Also a strict diet and exercise regime has to be followed by the patient along with regular consultations with the doctors.

However, a transplant is not the only option to treat kidney failure, but it certainly is the most promising one with the best outcomes. If you notice kidney problems, you must consult a seasoned nephrologist or urologist to begin the suitable prognosis.

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