What are the symptoms and treatment options for renal failure?

Symptom Database

Renal failure, also known as kidney failure, is a condition in which the kidneys are unable to adequately filter waste products from the blood. This can lead to a buildup of toxins and other substances in the body, resulting in various symptoms and complications. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive condition that can eventually lead to end-stage renal disease (ESRD), where kidney function is severely impaired or lost entirely. In this article, we will explore the symptoms and treatment options for renal failure.

Symptoms of Renal Failure

The symptoms of renal failure can vary depending on the stage and severity of the condition. Some common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased urine output
  • Changes in urine color (dark or foamy urine)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • High blood pressure

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of Renal Failure

There are several potential causes of renal failure, including:

  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney damage and eventual failure.
  • High blood pressure: Chronic high blood pressure can strain the kidneys and impair their function over time.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and damage to the kidneys.
  • Urinary tract obstruction: Blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate, can prevent urine from flowing properly and lead to kidney damage.
  • Certain medications: Long-term use of certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and some antibiotics, can cause kidney damage.

It is important to identify and address the underlying cause of renal failure to prevent further damage and manage the condition effectively.

Treatment Options for Renal Failure

Lifestyle Changes

One of the first steps in managing renal failure is making certain lifestyle changes. These may include:

  • Following a kidney-friendly diet: This typically involves reducing sodium, potassium, and phosphorus intake, and monitoring protein consumption.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking can worsen kidney damage and increase the risk of complications.
  • Exercising regularly: Regular physical activity can help improve overall health and manage conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Obesity can contribute to the development and progression of renal failure.


Medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms and slow the progression of renal failure. Some common medications used in the treatment of kidney disease include:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs): These medications help lower blood pressure and protect the kidneys from further damage.
  • Diuretics: Diuretics help remove excess fluid from the body, reducing swelling and relieving symptoms like shortness of breath.
  • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs): ESAs stimulate the production of red blood cells and can help manage anemia, a common complication of renal failure.
  • Phosphate binders: These medications help control phosphorus levels in the blood, which can become elevated in renal failure.


In cases of advanced renal failure, dialysis may be necessary to perform the functions of the kidneys. Dialysis is a procedure that involves removing waste products and excess fluid from the blood using a machine. There are two main types of dialysis:

  • Hemodialysis: This involves using a dialysis machine to filter the blood outside the body and then returning it to the body.
  • Peritoneal dialysis: This involves using the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) as a filter to remove waste and excess fluid.

Kidney Transplant

In some cases, a kidney transplant may be considered as a treatment option for renal failure. This involves surgically replacing a diseased kidney with a healthy kidney from a donor. Kidney transplantation can offer a better quality of life and improved long-term outcomes for individuals with end-stage renal disease.

In conclusion, renal failure is a serious condition that can have significant impacts on overall health and well-being. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking appropriate medical care is crucial for managing the condition effectively. With lifestyle changes, medications, dialysis, and potentially a kidney transplant, individuals with renal failure can lead fulfilling lives and maintain optimal kidney function.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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