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Life after kidney failure: What is it like?

Kidney Failure, Kidney Failure symptoms, causes of Kidney Failure, Life after kidney failure, life expectancy after kidney failure, Medical management of Kidney Failure

A kidney failure, in itself, is very challenging. Knowing that you are affected by end-stage kidney disease (ERSD) can take a toll on your overall well-being. What is even more taxing is accomplishing to live a healthy life after kidney failure. More than 10% of the world population lives with chronic kidney disease. Though it is difficult, life after kidney failure can be very smooth and productive. 

In this article, Dr Mohit Khirbat discusses how kidney failure impacts a patient’s life. Dr Mohit Khirbat is a leading nephrologist consulting at the CK Birla Hospital. 

Facts about life after kidney failure 

  • Kidney failure happens when the kidneys have less than 10% of functioning remaining. 
  • Acute kidney failure (the sudden inability of the kidney to function properly) can be reversed, in some cases.
  • There is no cure for kidney failure but effective treatment options are available. 
  • It is possible to live a fruitful life after kidney failure. 

What is kidney failure?

Kidneys are two bean-shaped organs responsible for removing extra toxins and waste produced by the body. They also enable the body to filter blood before pumping it to the heart. 

Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys lose their ability to perform the above-given functions completely. 

This condition is of two types –

  1. Acute kidney failure 
  2. Chronic kidney failure. 

Acute kidney failure occurs very suddenly and is often reversible. Nonetheless, chronic kidney failure progresses slowly and leads to a complete shutdown of kidney functions. 

Kidney failure is also known as end-stage renal disease. It is considered the final stage of chronic kidney disease and requires long-term clinical intervention. 

What are kidney failure symptoms?

Since acute kidney failure happens abruptly, its signs are often unnoticed. However, kidney failure symptoms for both acute and chronic failure can be detected and managed beforehand. It is important to have an understanding of these symptoms, especially if you have an ailment related to the kidney.  

Common acute kidney failure symptoms include:

  • Decrease in urination 
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue 
  • Swelling of legs and feet 
  • Pain or pressure in the chest 
  • Seizures 
  • Shortness of breath 

Common chronic kidney failure symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abnormal heart rhythm 
  • Presence of fluids in the lungs 
  • Shortage in production of urine 
  • Itching 
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss 

What are the causes of kidney failure?

There are several different causes of kidney failure. Sometimes, an underlying health condition can trigger kidney failure. 

A disruption in the flow of blood to the kidneys can also prompt kidney failure. If there is a difficulty in passing out urine, the load of toxins of the kidneys may increase leading to a failure. 

Conditions leading to kidney failure are:

  • Heart diseases
  • Liver failure 
  • Excessive dehydration 
  • Infections such as sepsis 
  • Prostate, colon or cervical cancer
  • Enlarged prostate 
  • Blood clotting 
  • Untreated and large kidney stones 

Can kidney failure be treated?

There is no cure for kidney failure but it can be treated successfully. Dialysis and kidney transplants are two effective treatment measures for renal failure. 

Dialysis – In this treatment type, the patient is dependent upon a machine that replaces the function of kidneys, to some extent. It does not offer a cure for renal failure but extends the patient’s life effectively. 

Kidney transplant – Kidney transplant is an invasive surgery in which the damaged kidneys are replaced with a compatible donor’s kidney. 

Irrespective of the treatment type, life after kidney failure requires care with careful planning. Let us learn about the life expectancy after kidney failure and the challenges one may face. 

How does life expectancy after kidney failure change?

The life expectancy after kidney failure mainly depends upon the type of treatment a patient undergoes. Besides treatment preference, your overall health, age, way of living and clinical care may affect life expectancy after kidney failure. 

A person living with kidney failure can expect to live for up to 10-20 years with the help of dialysis. The life expectancy of a person who has a kidney transplant can be extended up to 10-12 years. Several factors such as the health of the donor’s kidneys, complete health of the recipient and more add to the life expectancy. 

How is life after kidney failure like?

The treatment for kidney failure can help in managing your symptoms and extend your life. These modalities do not cure you of the disease. During or after treatment, you can expect to feel a variety of symptoms that may affect your physical, mental and emotional health. 

Some of the common symptoms include swelling in the stomach and ankle, problems with digestion, loss of appetite, weakness, confusion, headaches and fatigue. However, all of these health issues are manageable and may not necessarily interrupt your life. 

Life after kidney failure

Effect on relationships

Chronic kidney failure is capable of changing the course of your life. You will become more dependent on your family members for care at home. Their support will be critical to the progress of your health. 

Kidney failure impacts the boundaries in the relationship between the patient and caregiver. It is important that while your loved ones offer you unrestricted support, they also take care of their well-being.

Increase in clinical care

Your visits to the hospital will also become routine. You will need to consult your healthcare provider for regular tests and screenings. If you are a dialysis patient, the hospital setting may just be your second home. 

The amount of clinical help you seek in your life after kidney failure is considerably high. Needless to say, kidney failure can negatively impact your mental and emotional health. You may also seek consistent emotional and mental support from your loved ones. It is beneficial to take counselling sessions from a verified therapist. 

Impact on professional life 

Life after kidney failure demands most attention towards the management of the disease. For some people, their professional life becomes secondary. You may not need to completely get rid of your career goals. You can talk to your employer about your condition and ask for flexible working hours, remote working and more. 

Side effects on reproductive health

In men, kidney failure can prompt a low sperm volume. While women may suffer from menstrual issues as a side effect of this disease. These issues can further impact the fertile potential in a patient. If you wish to start or expand your family while living with kidney failure, you should consult with your healthcare provider. There are numerous scientific advances in the field of reproductive medicine that may be able to help you. 

What is the medical management of kidney failure?

If you can offer appropriate medical management of kidney failure, your life expectancy can increase or at least remain unaffected. 

Life after kidney failure calls for extensive medical help and lifestyle modifications. Here is what you can do to manage your symptoms effectively:

A proper check on medications – As a chronically ill patient, you are expected to regularly take your medicines. Irrespective of the severity of symptoms, you must follow your medication schedule as per your doctor’s guidelines. 

If you require additional medicines for other health concerns, you must consult your nephrologist and take their opinion on the same. Your medicines allow you to operate normally and keep health complications at bay. 

Eating a well-balanced diet – It is important to note that kidney failure treatment cannot replace the original abilities of the kidneys. During treatment, you are required to eat a nutritious diet for kidney health that does not cause digestive issues. 

The dialysis machine or the donor’s kidney may not be able to filter all the waste. Therefore, you should avoid consuming food products that may be difficult to get rid of. You need to control their sodium, phosphorus and fluids intake while loading on fibre, calories and vitamins. 

Engage in regular physical activity – Exercising regularly has a variety of benefits for anyone living with renal failure. You should avoid doing extraneous exercises and engage in light activities such as yoga, jogging, swimming and more. 

Stop smoking and drinking – Smoking cigarettes can harm your overall health and cause multiple complications. Excessive consumption of alcohol can also hamper your kidney failure treatment. 

The concluding note 

The news of kidney failure can be discouraging. However, there is hope in knowing that kidney failure symptoms can be managed with relevant care. With the above-mentioned care tips, you can make sure that your life after kidney failure is not aggravating. 

Book an appointment with Dr Mohit Khirbat, a leading nephrologist at the CK Birla Hospital to know more about kidney diseases and their treatment options. 


Ques: Can kidney failure be reversed?

Ans: Whether or not kidney failure can be reversed depends upon its type. Acute kidney failure that sets in suddenly is reversible while chronic kidney failure which progresses gradually is not. 

Ques: What are the stages of chronic kidney disease?

Ans: Chronic kidney disease develops over time across five stages. Stage 1 refers to mild kidney damage while stage 5 is the last stage in which kidney function completely declines. 

Ques: Can I receive dialysis at home?

Ans: Yes, advanced medical science services have enabled patients to receive dialysis at home. However, extreme care and clinical intervention is necessary to perform the process accurately. 

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