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The Function and Importance of Kidneys: What Happens When There Is A Kidney Failure?

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What are kidneys, and what are their functions?

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs that are located on either side of your abdomen. These are two in number and are present at the lowest level of your rib cage. Each kidney consists of several functional units known as nephrons.

A nephron consists of a glomerulus that is attached to a tubule. These glomeruli are filtering units of small blood vessels. When blood enters the glomerulus, the filtration happens, and the filtered fluid is sent to the tubule.

Inside the tubule, water and chemicals are either added or removed from the fluid. This function is performed based on your body’s needs. Once this process is complete, the rest of the waste fluid is passed out of your body in the form of urine.

Every 24 hours, the kidneys perform the function of filtering toxins and returning the fluid to the bloodstream. On average, our kidneys filter about 200 liters of liquid. Out of these, about 198 liters of fluid are recovered, whereas the remaining two liters are released from the body.

What is the importance of having healthy kidneys?

One of the kidneys’ most essential functions is to remove excess fluids and waste products from the body in the form of urine.

The production of urine is performed through some complex steps that involve re-absorption and excretion. This process plays a vital role in maintaining a balance of chemicals in your body.

The kidneys perform the body’s regulation of essential contents such as sodium, potassium, and acid-base balance.

The kidneys also produce of certain hormones that affect other organs of the body. For instance, the kidneys produce a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells in the body. Another hormone produced by the kidneys helps control calcium metabolism and regulates blood pressure.

In summary, the kidneys perform the following functions:

  • Balancing the body’s fluid and electrolyte levels
  • Regulation of osmolarity, ions, and pH
  • Removing waste products as well as drugs from the body
  • Releasing hormones that are essential for the proper function of the body, such as blood pressure-regulating hormones
  • Producing an active form of vitamin D that helps promote healthy and strong bones
  • Controlling the production of red blood cells in the body

What is kidney failure?

Kidneys perform important functions like removing wastes and excess fluid through urination, controlling blood pressure, and manufacturing red blood cells in the body.

When somebody develops kidney failure, the kidneys are no longer able to perform their functions sufficiently. Having a severe kidney failure may indicate that:

  • Around 85-90% of the kidneys are damaged.
  • Your kidneys do not function well enough to keep you alive.

Although there is no cure for kidney failure yet, proper and early diagnosis and treatment can give you a long life.

What causes kidney failure?

You can develop kidney failure due to several causes or conditions. Usually, the cause also helps determine the type of kidney failure. The common causes of kidney failure include:

  1. Loss of blood flow to the kidneys

A sudden loss of blood flow to the kidneys can cause kidney damage. The causes for this include:

  • Dehydration, Acute gastroenteritis
  • Heart diseases
  • Allergic reactions
  • Severe burns
  • Infections such as sepsis
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain medications such as anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Urine elimination problems

When your body fails to eliminate urine from your body, it leads to the build-up of toxins in your blood that can lead to kidney damage. The causes include:

  • Kidney stones
  • Blood clots in your urinary tract
  • An enlarged prostate gland
  • Damage to the nerves that control the function of your bladder
  • Certain types of cancer

Some types of cancer can also block your urinary passageways, thereby causing kidney damage, such as:

Other factors that may cause damage to the kidneys include:

  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Inflamed blood vessels
  • Lupus – a type of autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in various organs
  • Diabetes and BP
  • Chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer
  • An overload of toxins from the accumulation of heavy metals
  • Over use of pain killer medicines

What happens when the kidneys fail?

When your kidneys are damaged, they fail to perform the basic functions of removing wastes and excess fluids from the body. This leads to the buildup of wastes in blood which can make a person sick. Who may experience the following symptoms:

  1. Anaemia – low levels of blood in the body
  2. Weakness
  3. Fatigue
  4. Nausea, vomiting
  5. Difficulty sleeping at night
  6. Unexplained weight loss
  7. Confusion
  8. Seizures
  9. Swollen legs, ankles, and feet
  10. Shortness of breath
  11. Muscle cramps
  12. Uncontrolled BP

If you experience these symptoms, you should consult a doctor to avoid future complications.

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What are the treatment options available for kidney failure?

There are different types of treatment options available for kidney failure. Each treatment depends on the causes and severity of your kidney failure. Some standard treatment options include:


Dialysis works by replacing one of the most critical functions of your kidneys: blood purification and filtration. The blood is filtered and purified with the help of a machine.

Depending on the type of dialysis suggested in your case, you may be connected to either a fixed  dialysis machine or a portable one. Along with dialysis, your doctor may recommend that you follow a low-salt and low-potassium diet.

Although it may not completely cure your kidney failure, it can extend your life if you opt for regular dialysis.

New modalities in dialysis such as Hemodiafiltration or CRRT (Continuous renal replacement can be used in both acute and chronic kidney failure and provides a good patient outcome and increased life expectancy.


Depending on the circumstances, a kidney transplant. May be required in such cases, one will not require dialysis.

Usually, you may have to wait for a longer time to receive a deceased donor kidney compatible with your blood type. However, the process may be quicker if you already have a living donor.

Also, your doctor may prescribe some immunosuppressive drugs to avoid the risk of organ rejection after the transplant. A kidney transplant may not be the appropriate treatment option for some people. There are chances the transplant could be unsuccessful. You can discuss this with your doctor, and they may be able to suggest which treatment option would work best for you.

Life expectancy with kidney failure

There’s no cut and dry rule to predict the life expectancy of a person with kidney failure. It is different in each case. However, in most cases, people live up to five to ten years with dialysis if followed regularly.

Factors like your age and overall health, severity, and causes of kidney failure may also play an essential role in determining life expectancy.

A young person in the earlier stages of kidney failure and no risk of future complications may live longer than someone with severe kidney failure, cardiovascular diseases, or other serious medical conditions.


Kidneys play an important role in performing some of the essential functions of the human body. If any damage is caused to the kidneys, it may lead to the buildup of toxins and fluids in the blood, causing severe complications and, sometimes, even death. If you notice any of the symptoms related to kidney failure, immediately seek medical assistance.

Verified By Dr S Anil Kumar Patro
MBBS, MD, DNB(NEPHROLOGY), Sr. Consultant Nephrologist and Kidney Transplant Specialist, Apollo Hospitals, Health City, Vishakapatnam
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