Symptoms and Signs of Kidney Failure, Causes and Stages

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, located in your back on either side of your spine. Kidneys play a vital role in body function by filtering and removing waste products and balancing electrolyte levels in the body, which regulate blood pressure and stimulate the production of red blood cells. Sometimes they cannot perform their normal function due to scar tissue, stone or accumulation of massive waste products. In such conditions, the kidneys are considered to have failed. The kidney problem should be treated as soon as possible before it affects your overall health.

What is Kidney Failure?

Kidney failure is when your kidneys are unable to filter waste and purify blood. Your body becomes overloaded with waste and toxins when your kidneys are not functioning properly. Kidney damage can cause serious complications to your health if left untreated.

Facts about kidney failure

  • Kidney failure may not cause symptoms in the early stage. Symptoms usually develop after the buildup of excess waste products and fluids.
  • Treating the underlying diseases may be the first step in correcting kidney abnormalities.
  • Chronic kidney disease can be prevented by controlling blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Dialysis or kidney transplant is the only option if the kidneys have completely failed.

What Are the Causes of Kidney Failure?

Factors that cause kidney failure are:

Loss of blood supply to the kidneys

Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys don’t get enough blood. A sudden loss of blood supply to the kidneys can be caused by:

  • Heart attack or heart disease
  • Liver failure
  • A serious infection such as sepsis
  • severe burns
  • dehydration
  • Allergic reaction
  • high bloodpressure
  • anti-inflammatory drugs

Urinary elimination problems

Your kidneys become overloaded with toxins when they can’t drain urine. Some cancers, such as prostate cancer, colon cancer, bladder cancer, and cervical cancer, can block the urinary tract.

Other conditions that interfere with urination and lead to kidney failure include:

  • Damage to the nerves that control your bladder
  • Kidney stones
  • Blood clots in your urinary tract
  • An enlarged prostate gland

Other Reasons:-

Other factors that can increase your risk of kidney failure include:

  • Scleroderma
  • Blood clots in and around your kidneys
  • alcohol consumption
  • vasculitis
  • multiple myeloma
  • Uncontrolled diabetes/hypertension
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy medications
  • lupus
  • Inflammation of the small blood vessels of the kidneys
  • Hemolytic uraemic syndrome

What Are the Symptoms of a Kidney Problem?

Symptoms of early stage kidney disease can be difficult to notice because they are often subtle. Common signs of kidney failure may include:-

  • Pain or pressure in your chest
  • Decreased amount of urine
  • To attack
  • Swelling of your legs, feet and ankles caused by fluid retention due to kidney failure
  • Persistent nausea
  • coma
  • shortness of breath
  • confusion
  • Tiredness or drowsiness
  • loss of appetite
  • congestive heart failure
  • High level of potassium in the blood
  • metabolic acidosis

Different stages of renal failure

Kidney failure has five stages, ranging from very mild to complete failure.

Phase 1

It is a very mild stage and you may not experience any symptoms or complications. It is manageable by maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise and little to no use of tobacco products. It is important to control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.

Stage 2

It is also a mild form, but physical damage to the kidneys and protein in the urine may be evident. This stage also requires following a healthy lifestyle. In addition, you should talk to your doctor about the other factors that can make your disease progress, including blood disorders, heart disease, and inflammation.

Phase 3

It is considered a moderate failure. You may experience symptoms such as back pain, frequent changes in urination, and swelling in the feet and hands. Lifestyle changes can help, but your doctor may also prescribe medications to treat the underlying disease that can speed up the progression of the disease.

Phase 4

This stage is considered moderate to severe. You may experience symptoms such as bone disease, anemia, and high blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle is important and your doctor will also recommend treatments to slow its progression.

Phase 5

Usually, your kidneys fail completely during stage 5. Symptoms are more obvious, including difficulty breathing, nausea, itchy skin, chest pain, and more. During this phase, you will need routine dialysis or kidney transplantation.

How is renal failure diagnosed?

Your doctor may perform the following tests to diagnose kidney failure:

  • Urine output measurements – This test measures how much you urinate in 24 hours. Low urine output may indicate that you may have kidney failure.
  • Urinalysis – A sample of your urine is tested to check for abnormal protein or sugar in your urine.
  • Imaging Tests – Your doctor may perform an ultrasound, CT, or MRI scan to view the picture of your kidneys and urinary tract. This allows them to see if there are any blockages or abnormalities in your kidneys.
  • Kidney biopsy A piece of your kidney tissue is examined to see if your kidneys are functioning properly.

How is kidney failure treated?

Your doctor will suggest one of the following treatments, depending on the severity of your condition.

Treatments to balance the amount of blood fluids

Your doctor may administer oral medications or intravenous fluids if your kidney failure is caused by a lack of fluid in your blood.

Medication to restore calcium levels in the blood

Your doctor may recommend an infusion of calcium if your blood calcium levels are low.

Medications for other symptoms

Your doctor may prescribe medications to treat the symptoms associated with kidney failure, such as swelling, anemia, bone pain, chest pain, and more.


Hemodialysis is a process of filtration and purification of the blood using a machine that performs the function of the kidneys. In peritoneal dialysis, the removal of waste products or toxins occurs through PD fluid exchange through a PD catheter inserted into the lower abdomen. Dialysis does not cure kidney failure, but it can extend your life if you receive regular treatment.

kidney transplant

It involves surgically inserting a healthy kidney into your body. Transplanted kidneys function normally, but not everyone can be the right candidate for a kidney transplant. You should discuss with your doctor whether you can have a transplant.

Seek medical help as soon as you notice symptoms of kidney failure.

Dr. Ravi KR, advisor – nephrologist, Sahyadri Narayana Multispecialty Hospital Shimoga

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