What is Chronic Renal Failure?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chronic renal failure is a medical condition characterized by a steady decline in kidney function over time. By contrast, in acute renal failure, the kidneys fail abruptly and sometimes catastrophically. It is not usually possible to cure chronic renal failure, unless resolving the cause reverses the progression of the kidney disease, and eventually the patient will require dialysis or transplant to replace the damaged kidneys.

A diagram of a healthy kidney.
A diagram of a healthy kidney.

This condition is also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD), kidney failure, or renal insufficiency. A number of things can bring about chronic renal failure, with the patient usually experiencing general malaise and fatigue at first. Other more telling symptoms can include changes in urine production, abdominal tenderness, blood in the urine, increased thirst, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, frequent headaches, and a rise in blood pressure. As symptoms become more severe and more numerous, a doctor can start to identify kidney failure as a potential cause for the patient's ill health.

The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.
The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.

A doctor can diagnose chronic renal failure with the assistance of diagnostic tests which look for the tell-tale signs of a decline in kidney function, such as electrolyte imbalances and an inefficient elimination of waste from the kidneys. Once a patient has been diagnosed, the doctor usually tries to determine the cause so that it can be addressed, if possible. Other medical tests such as additional blood work or medical imaging studies may be used to learn more about the patient's overall health.

A blood test between the donor and recipient is performed to ensure they are a match.
A blood test between the donor and recipient is performed to ensure they are a match.

Management of chronic renal failure is focused on dealing with the complications of the disease as they arise. Patients usually develop high blood pressure, water retention, and cardiovascular problems, along with medical issues related to electrolyte imbalances and disturbances in hormone levels, all of which require treatment. Eventually, the disease will progress to a stage at which dialysis is recommended because the patient's kidneys are simply not able to function enough to sustain the patient.

Dialysis may work to keep a patient stable for an extended period of time, but eventually, the patient will need a kidney transplant to deal with chronic kidney failure. Once a patient is on the transplant list, he or she will be notified when a donor organ becomes available. Kidneys can also be donated from living individuals, and several charitable organizations which coordinate living donations can help patients access a pool of potential living donors if they do not personally know anyone who might be willing to donate a kidney and is a match to the patient's blood type.

Dialysis treatment is often needed for advanced chronic renal failure.
Dialysis treatment is often needed for advanced chronic renal failure.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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