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Renal Failure

Kidney disease causes waste and extra fluids build up in the blood, which can lead to a wide range of medical problems.

Kidney disease can progress into life-threatening renal failure (also known as end stage kidney disease or kidney failure) when about 90 percent of kidney function is lost. At this point, a person with renal failure needs life-saving treatment, which includes dialysis, kidney transplant or both.

Renal failure causes

If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you have the highest risk for developing renal failure. Other causes include the following:

  • Glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation)
  • Genetic diseases (e.g., polycystic kidney disease)
  • Autoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus)
  • Birth defects (e.g., kidney dysplasia)

Renal failure symptoms

People with kidney failure typically experience the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Preventing renal failure

Working with your primary care physician and/or nephrologist (a physician who specializes in kidney diseases) to manage diabetes, high blood pressure and your overall health is the most effective way to prevent kidney failure.

How can I get help for renal failure?

Your primary care physician or nephrologist at Rush can test your kidney function and determine the stage of your kidney disease by calculating your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Your doctor calculates your GFR based on your creatinine levels, age, weight and gender.

If your GFR is less than 15, you have renal failure. Your doctor and you will discuss a treatment plan that is best for you.

Care for renal failure at Rush

While there is no cure for renal failure, there are treatment options that can help you to feel better and live a full life. The two options are dialysis and kidney transplant.

If you have been living with kidney disease for many years, you may need both dialysis and a transplant. Discuss your options with your doctor to determine what is best for your condition and lifestyle.


Dialysis is a process that helps the kidneys perform their normal function when they are unable to do so naturally. Dialysis removes the waste, salt and excess water from the kidneys. You will need to be on dialysis for the rest of your life or until you receive a kidney transplant.

There are two main types of dialysis:

  • Hemodialysis: A process in which you are hooked up to a machine with a filter (called a dialyzer) that slowly cleans your blood and returns it to your body.
  • Peritoneal dialysis: A process in which a catheter with a sterile cleansing solution is inserted into your abdominal lining (peritoneum). Together, the solution and the blood vessels in your abdominal cavity clean your blood of waste, chemicals and extra fluid.


During a kidney transplant, your surgeon will implant a healthy kidney from a donor into your body. When the transplant is successful, your new kidney will begin to work immediately.

While a successful transplant will certainly improve your quality of life, you will still need ongoing treatment, including immunosuppressive therapy (medications to prevent organ rejection) for the rest of your life.

Why Choose Rush for Renal Failure Care

  • Top-ranked program: The nephrology program at Rush is consistently named among the best in the country in U.S. News & World Report.
  • Leaders in care: Research at Rush that focused on slowing the progression of kidney disease in people with diabetes led to changes in American Diabetes Association recommendations regarding standards of care.
  • Experienced transplant team: Specialists in the kidney transplant program at Rush are highly experienced in the most advanced transplant techniques and procedures.

Departments and programs that treat this condition