- The kidneys are a pair of organs located slightly below the ribcage to either side of the spine. They are about the size of a fist and resemble a bean in shape. The primary function of the kidneys is to filter waste materials out of the blood. Additionally, they produce three hormones: erythropoietin, renin and calcitriol. Erythropoietin stimulates red blood cell production. Renin helps with blood pressure regulation. Calcitriol helps the body to keep a normal chemical balance and maintain calcium for bone maintenance. Renal failure is a condition in which the kidneys, either abruptly or over time, stop functioning correctly. It occurs in three broad stages.
- Renal failure typically begins with a less severe condition referred to as renal insufficiency, which is the core of the early stage. In the early stage, the condition rarely manifests noticeable physical symptoms. There are changes in the body that can indicate kidney function has diminished. There may also be elevated levels of serum creatinine. Serum is a fluid between blood cells that does not clot, and creatinine is a waste product produced by muscle metabolism. Other signs of improper kidney function include protein or blood in the urine, higher blood pressure and, in rare cases, anemia.
- In the advances stage of renal insufficiency, there can be a complete lack of discernable symptoms, even though the kidneys may be functioning at less than 30 percent of normal function. There will be significantly elevated levels of serum creatinine. When symptoms do appear, they can include fatigue and back pain; swelling in the extremities and around the eyes; and changes in appetite and the appearance of poor digestion. Hypertension, which is blood pressure that has increased into a dangerous level, may also develop.
- The end stage is when true renal failure occurs. Kidney function may be at less than 15 percent of normal by this stage. A wide range of discernable symptoms can appear during renal failure. In addition to a worsening of all previous symptoms, it is common for those suffering renal failure to bleed or bruise very easily. Fluid may accumulate in the lungs and contribute to difficult breathing. Persistent nausea, diarrhea and further digestive problems (gastroparesis) are likely to develop. There can also be impaired concentration and alertness, as well as the possibility of seizures. Renal failure cannot be cured and there only two treatment options: organ transplants or dialysis.