Kidney Disease And The Stages Of Kidney Failure


Kidney Disease And The Stages Of Kidney Failure

The Role Of Your Kidneys

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are located in the upper abdominal area against the back muscles. The kidneys are relatively small (when compared to other vital organs), yet play a crucial role in the daily function of your body. Your kidneys are composed of a million tiny filters called nephrons. Similar to a water filtration plant, they regulate the health of your bloodstream by filtering out wastes and extra fluid in the body. Because the kidneys are responsible for keeping your bloodstream clean and free of toxins, you cannot survive without them.

The kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1-2 quarts of waste. As the blood is filtered, the waste is drained from the kidneys into the bladder as urine. Your body is a closed system; you can only get rid of waste through sweating, breathing, and urinating/bowel movements. If there is a disruption to any of these systems, the repercussions can be serious.

Risk Factors & Tests

Although 31 million Americans have kidney disease, most individuals with kidney disease are unaware of it because there are no symptoms in the early stages. One of the best ways to be protected from kidney disease is to know the risk factors and to get tested as often as is recommended by your physician.

Anyone can get kidney disease, but there are some factors that cause kidney disease, and/or increase your risk of kidney disease:

  • Excessive toxic exposure to environmental pollutants.
  • Serious medical conditions such as heart disease, blood clots, kidney stones, or an enlarged prostate.
  • Infections, burns, allergic reactions.
  • Dehydration.
  • Kidney trauma.
  • Severe infection.
  • Diabetes.
  • Hypertension.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Genetics, or being of African-American, Asian, Native American, or of Hispanic descent.
  • Over 60 years of age.

If you are at risk for developing kidney disease, talk to your physician about how often you should get tested. The severity of kidney disease can be greatly reduced with early treatment by a kidney specialist. Your physician may recommend one or more of the following tests to monitor your kidney health, and diagnose kidney disease or kidney failure: Urinalysis – A urine sample is tested for abnormalities.

  • Urinalysis – A urine sample is tested for abnormalities.Blood test – Blood samples are tested to measure for excess toxins or buildup in the bloodstream.
  • Blood test – Blood samples are tested to measure for excess toxins or buildup in the bloodstream.Imaging – An ultrasound, MRI, or
  • Imaging – An ultrasound, MRI, or CT-Scan is taken to produce images of kidneys and urinary tract. These images will show any blockages or abnormalities.
  • Tissue Samples – Kidney tissues are tested for abnormal deposits, scarring, or infections. Tissue samples are acquired by taking a kidney biopsy.

5 Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

There are no symptoms of kidney disease in the early stages, so it’s easy for kidney disease to go undetected until it has progressed to a serious stage.  It takes a while for symptoms to appear, as the symptomatic degeneration is slow. Symptoms don’t usually appear until a lot of damage to your kidneys has taken place, and you’ve reached the end stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). As you’re nearing kidney failure, you may notice symptoms that are caused by extra waste in your system.

The progression of kidney disease is categorized into five stages.

Stage 1:  The kidneys have normal kidney function. There may be a few signs of mild kidney disease. The kidneys have at least 90% kidney function. Some abnormalities may be found through urinalysis or blood work. High likelihood of kidney disease may be determined based on genetic traits. Treatment may involve some dietary changes and mild blood pressure medication.

Stage 2: Kidney function is mildly reduced. There may be a few signs of mild kidney disease. The kidneys have 60-89% kidney function. Other findings, such as urinalysis, blood work, and genetic traits, point to kidney disease.

Stage 3: It is possible to feel normal, with no symptoms of kidney failure, even in stage three. If you do experience symptoms in this stage, you may feel tired, puffy, experience changes in appetite, have dull back pain, or see changes in urine, with urine appearing clear. You may experience hypertension or digestive changes. Stage three is marked by moderately reduced kidney function, with kidneys functioning at 40-59%.

Stage 4:  Although it is still possible to not have symptoms at this stage, there’s an increased likelihood that you’ll experience fatigue, swelling, changes in appetite, back pain, changes in urine, hypertension, and slowed digestion. You will show signs of severe chronic renal insufficiency, with 15-29% kidney function.

Stage 5:  Stage five is end-stage kidney failure. The kidneys are functioning at 10-15%, and symptoms may include the following:

  • Itching/rash.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Mental changes (difficulty concentrating, remembering, etc.).
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, and weakness.
  • Swelling in feet and ankles.
  • Too little/too much urine.
  • Difficulty breathing and recovering from exercise.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Stomach/back pain.
  • Fever.
  • Nosebleeds/ anemia.

Contact your physician immediately if you notice these symptoms, as they may indicate kidney disease, or be life-threatening signs of kidney failure.

Types Of Kidney Failure

There are 2 types of kidney failure. They are as follows:

Acute Renal Failure – This is a condition when normal kidneys suddenly stop working properly.  This may result from:

  • Trauma
  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Infections
  • Inflammation or other devastating medical conditions

This may be reversible with time with improvement in kidney function, although the kidneys may be left with irreversible chronic scarring and may never regain their full function.

Chronic Renal Failure –  This is a progressive permanent kidney condition that will deteriorate with time and starts with Stage 1 and progresses to Stage 5 and then End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) which requires dialysis or transplant.  It may be caused by a variety of medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, hereditary kidney disease, kidney inflammatory conditions, etc.  It usually does not give any symptoms until it progresses to advanced stages.

How Do You Prevent Kidney Disease?

Anyone can get kidney disease, so it’s important to be aware of your personal risk factors. To reduce your risk of getting kidney disease, be aware of the daily stress you put on your kidneys. Follow directions of over the counter drugs, limit alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, pesticides, chemicals, and other toxins. Seek medical care immediately if you experience a UTI, develop decreasing urination or blood in the urine.

Treatments For End-Stage Kidney Disease

There are two main treatments for End Stage Kidney Disease:

Dialysis – Dialysis is the filtration of blood through an external machine that performs the duties of healthy kidneys. A dialysis machine draws blood from the body, purifies the blood, and returns the clean blood back into your system. Dialysis does not cure kidney disease, but it does extend your life and your quality of life if you do regular treatments.

Kidney transplant – Kidney transplants replace the damaged kidney with one from a donor. Usually, there is a long wait to receive a donor kidney that’s compatible with your body. The benefit of a kidney transplant is that the new kidney can work (with help of immunosuppressive drugs) and dialysis isn’t required. The risk of a kidney transplant is that the body can reject the kidney.


The Nephrology department at WWMG is dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the kidney. Through the recognition of risk factors, prevention methods, early detection, and treatment plans, our services are designed to save kidney function and abolish a patient’s future need for serious treatments such as dialysis. To learn more about the WWMG Nephrology department, visit our website and contact us to make an appointment with one of our specialists.