What are the Types of Kidney Failure?

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Normal kidney function is fundamental for our health, since kidneys are tasked with removing waste from our bloodstream while keeping important nutrients. When kidneys stop performing this process, we are faced with a serious condition called kidney failure. Kidney failure is very prevalent worldwide, with approximately 5-10 million people dying every year from it. Since the human body has two kidneys, patients can survive if only one of the two is functioning. However, many times the conditions that damage our kidneys end up affecting both, which is why medical intervention is important.

There are two main categories of kidney failure: acute and chronic. The main difference has to do with the disease onset and progression rate. However, there may also be different underlying factors in their causes.

Acute kidney failure
In acute kidney failure (also called acute kidney injury), kidneys stop functioning over a very short period of time, usually a few days. There are many possible causes, but some of the most common ones have to do with decreased blood flow to the kidneys, direct injury to the kidneys or blockage of the urine pathway. Many times, acute kidney failure is a result of other conditions that bring patients to the hospital, which is why many times it occurs while patients are already hospitalized. Some examples are heart attacks, liver failure, or specific infections such as hemolytic uremic syndrome. Acute kidney failure is usually treated in the hospital with hemodialysis and dietary changes, until the kidneys restore their proper function.

Chronic kidney failure
In chronic kidney failure (or chronic kidney disease), the progression is slow and kidney function worsens over time. Some of the most prevalent causes are diabetes, hypertension and some genetic conditions that are associated with a family history of kidney failure. There are different stages of chronic kidney failure, measured by the ability of the kidneys to filter the blood. Based on the stage in which it is detected, chronic kidney failure can be treated with dietary changes and controlling the underlying condition. However, in late stages, special medication or hemodialysis may be required. If nothing else works, doctors may recommend a kidney transplant, which if successful may restore healthy kidney function.

Overall, kidney failure is treatable if detected early. Markers of deteriorating kidney function can be found in a simple blood test. This is why regular check-ups are important, especially if someone belongs to a group with a higher risk for developing kidney failure, such as diabetics, people with hypertension and older individuals.

More sources on kidney failure

  1. American Kidney Fund. https://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/kidney-failure/

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidney-failure

  3. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/about-chronic-kidney-disease

— Vicky Kanta