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The kidneys clean your blood and filter out the urine. But what happens when they can no longer do this? And what reasons can there be for this to happen?
Here's what you need to know
Das solltest du wissen
Ecco cosa c'è da sapere
Voici ce qu'il faut savoir
Esto es lo que debe saber
  • Acute kidney failure is usually caused by blood poisoning, major surgery, fluid loss, urinary retention, or reactions to medications

  • Chronic kidney failure develops over years and is most often caused by high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney inflammation

  • To determine how efficient the kidneys still are, the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is measured

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In principle, there are two types of kidney failure: chronic and acute renal failure. We will take a closer look at both to better understand the possible reasons for kidneys to stop working.

Acute kidney failure

In acute kidney failure, things happen very quickly. Within a few days or weeks, your kidneys may stop working properly. In the vast majority of cases, a serious pre-existing condition is the cause. Blood poisoning, major surgery, fluid loss, urinary retention or reactions to medications can be at the root of the problem.

Most patients whose kidneys suddenly stop working make a full recovery.

Chronic kidney failure

Chronic kidney failure (chronic renal insufficiency) develops slowly, often over decades. Most of the time, you don't even notice it because the changes happen in tiny increments. That's what makes the disease so dangerous.

High blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney infections overload your kidneys. If this overload continues for too long, your kidney corpuscles get weaker by the month. This damage can usually no longer be repaired.

The first stages of chronic kidney disease can take a long time and are often not recognized because there are no clear symptoms.

The glomerular filtration rate (=GFR)

To help your doctor determine how far the disease has progressed, it's categorized into five stages. A doctor will measure and calculate your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This is basically the performance of your kidney. It tells you how much blood the kidneys can still filter without assistance. The higher the stage, the more advanced the disease.

A healthy kidney should clear at least 95 milliliters of blood of creatinine every minute. Doctors then refer to it as a "GFR of 95". The unit of measurement for this is relatively complicated: "millilitres per minute per 1.73 square metres". We don't really need to go into that in detail now. What is important is that the GFR gradually decreases with the stage of your kidney disease. We speak of kidney failure when the GFR is below 15.

How do I slow the progression of kidney disease?

With kidney disease, your nephrologist should fundamentally try to alleviate typical symptoms. Stopping deterioration and delaying kidney replacement therapy for as long as possible may be feasible for years to come. However, this does not only depend on the nephrologist. It requires good cooperation between you and your doctor. If you have a weakened kidney function, you can control or at least influence many parameters yourself.

Dialysis treatment aims to reduce typical symptoms of kidney disease and improve your well-being. If you do not dialyze despite being on dialysis, the following symptoms can quickly reappear: nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, high blood pressure… all of which dialysis tries to alleviate.

In other sections of the Mizu app, you can learn more about treatment options when dialysis-related kidney failure is unstoppable.

Medically reviewed by:
Medizinisch überprüft durch:
Verificato dal punto di vista medico da:
Médicalement vérifié par :
Médicamente comprobado por:
Dr. Diego Parada Rodriguez (en)
Specialist in training for Nephrology
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