Renal Failure

Renal failure refers to temporary or permanent damage to the kidneys, resulting in loss of normal kidney function. There are two different types of renal failure: acute and chronic. The causes, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes of acute and chronic are different.

Acute renal failure has an abrupt onset and is potentially reversible. Symptoms of acute renal failure depend largely on the underlying cause. Some risk factors for acute renal failure may include:

  • History of recent infection
  • History of taking certain medications 
  • History of trauma
  • Exposure to heavy metals or toxic solvent

Chronic renal failure progresses slowly over at least three months and can lead to permanent renal failure.

The following are the most common symptoms of acute and chronic renal failure. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. The symptoms of acute and chronic renal failure may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.





Abdominal pain 

Back pain 

Detectable abdominal mass 

Diarrhea or bloody diarrhea 




Inflammation of the eye 

Muscle cramps 

No urine output or high urine output


Pale skin 

Poor appetite 


Severe vomiting 

Swelling of the tissues 



Bad breath 

Bone pain 

Change in mental alertness 

Detectable abdominal mass 

Dry skin 

Fatigue with light activity 


Hearing deficit 

High urine output or no urine output





Metallic taste in mouth 

Muscle cramps 

Pale skin 

Poor appetite 

Poor muscle tone 

Recurrent urinary tract infections 

Tissue swelling 

Urinary incontinence 




In addition to a physical examination and complete medical history, diagnostic procedures for renal failure may include the following:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests will determine blood cell counts, electrolyte levels, and kidney function

  • Urine tests

  • Renal ultrasound (sonography). A non-invasive test in which a transducer is passed over the kidney producing sound waves which bounce off the kidney, transmitting a picture of the organ on a video screen. The test is used to determine the size and shape of the kidney, and to detect a mass, kidney stone, cyst, or other obstruction or abnormalities.

  • Kidney biopsy. This procedure involves the removal of tissue samples (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope; to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays. Contrast CT usually cannot be done when there is kidney failure.


Specific treatment for renal failure will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Type of disease (acute or chronic)

  • Underlying cause of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Renal failure treatment may include:

  • Hospitalization

  • Administration of intravenous (IV) fluids in large volumes (to replace depleted blood volume)

  • Diuretic therapy or medications (to increase urine output)

  • Close monitoring of important electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and calcium

  • Medications (to control blood pressure)

  • Specific diet requirements

In some cases, patients may develop severe electrolyte disturbances, fluid overload and/or toxic levels of certain waste products normally eliminated by the kidneys. Dialysis may be indicated in these cases. Treatment of chronic renal failure depends on the degree of kidney function that remains.

Chronic renal failure treatment may include:

  • Medications (to help with growth, prevent bone density loss, and/or to treat anemia)

  • Diuretic therapy or medications (to increase urine output)

  • Specific diet restrictions or modifications

  • Dialysis

  • Kidney transplantation