Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist. Red-brown in color, they are located on either side of your spine in your upper abdomen. They are part of the urinary tract, and filter waste products, excess salt and fluids out of the blood. These waste products are then excreted as urine.
Renal (kidney) failure occurs when the organs lose their ability to filter out wastes. Toxins build up in the body as a result. Without treatment, the condition is fatal. Over 67,000 Americans die of renal failure every year.
Acute and Chronic Renal Failure. Two different forms of the disease exist: acute and chronic renal failure. If kidney function stops suddenly, the disease is considered acute. Acute renal failure (ARF) is often caused by physical injury or surgical complications, or by blockages in the blood vessels leading to the kidney. Often, ARF is treatable, with long-term survival rates of sixty percent.
Chronic renal failure (CRF) is characterized by a gradual decrease in organ function. CRF is often caused by other medical conditions, including hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. CRF symptoms do not occur until the late stages of the disease, when organ function has been reduced to as little as 25 percent.
CRF is a common disease. The National Kidney Foundation reports that over twenty million Americans live with CRF, and that an additional twenty million are at risk of developing the disease. Kidney cancer is a common cause of chronic renal failure. Treating the underlying disease is important in managing kidney failure.
End Stage Renal Disease
Once organ function drops to less than ten percent, the kidneys can no longer process wastes effectively enough to maintain life. The technical term for this stage of the disease is end stage renal disease, or ESRD. Dialysis or a kidney transplant is required. Every year, over 80,000 cases of ESRD are reported in the United States.
What is Dialysis?
Over 300,000 Americans require dialysis treatment due to CRF and ESRD. Dialysis provides an artificial filtering system to replace lost organ function. Dialysis treatment may use a machine to filter impurities from the bloodstream. Other forms of dialysis use the abdominal cavity and catheters to remove waste products.
Dialysis is not a cure, and it is not without risks. Infections and malnutrition may occur, and long-term dialysis has been linked to a heightened risk of renal cancer. A kidney transplant is a more permanent solution to ESRD, but the number of organ donations does not meet the medical demand