What is Renal Failure

Chronic Renal Failure happens when the kidneys stop functioning, or if their effectiveness is less than 10%. It is an irreversible process and normal kidney functioning will never return. In other words, the kidneys have permanent damage. When the operation of the kidneys deteriorates, the body can’t excrete waste products and excess fluids.

These waste products and excess fluids are toxic to the body. When these values become too high, it can lead to nausea, headaches and light-headedness.

The skin may become itchy, and your body can develop an unpleasant odour because of the body’s inability to rid itself of waste. Moisture retention, also known as oedema, can lead to weight gain, which in turn can result in high blood pressure and respiratory problems.

Renal failure can cause anaemia as well as to the disintegration of the bone structure.


Acute Renal Failure

Happens when the kidneys suddenly stop functioning. The cause of this is sometimes unknown. Other factors such as injuries, big surgical procedures, over-exposure to toxic substances and hereditary conditions, can contribute to acute kidney failure. The condition can be reversed in most patients, but permanent damage may result.

The Kidneys

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs situated approximately in the middle of your back. Each kidney weighs about 160 grammes and is 10-15cm long. There is a constant flow of blood to the kidneys, which filters out impurities using millions of tiny filters. The substance filtrated is called urine. The urine gathers at a central point in the kidneys and is then transferred through the urinary tract to the bladder. The kidneys remove 1-2 litres of urine per day.

Kidney Functions

  • To purify the blood of all waste products and
  • To remove any excess fluids
  • Maintain a healthy balance of different minerals such as potassium, sodium, phosphates and acids
  • The kidneys release a hormone which has an impact on the bone structure (Vitamin D)
  • Form of red blood cells (erythropoietin), as well as the regulation of blood pressure.

Reasons for Kidney Failure

Kidney failure can happen to anyone at any time. In SA today, there are 80-100 persons per million with some or other kidney problem. Worldwide more than 300 000 patients are receiving dialysis. The most common cause of renal failure is Glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney) and Diabetes Mellitus (diabetes).

Other causes include Hypertension (high blood pressure), obstructions, chronic infection, transmittable diseases, accidents and injuries caused by medication, drugs, poison or radiation. Renal failure is a life-threatening condition if it is not treated using dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Symptoms of Renal Failure

Uremia is a medical term used to describe the symptoms of renal failure. The symptoms of uremia appear when waste products build up in the bloodstream.

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness
  • Lethargy
  • High blood pressure
  • Diarrhoea
  • Decrease in urination
  • Swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thirst