What is kidney disease?

Kidney disease is a general term that includes any disease, disorder or condition of the kidneys. The kidneys are vital internal organs located in the upper abdomen. Normally people have two bean-shaped kidneys, which form a part of the urinary tract in the genitourinary system.

Healthy kidneys function continuously, and the body’s total blood supply passes through the kidneys several times each minute. The healthy body can continue to function with only one good kidney, as happens when someone volunteers to be a living kidney donor.

Kidney disease is due to a variety of conditions that lead to kidney damage and deterioration of kidney function. Kidney disease can make it difficult or impossible for the kidneys to perform functions that are critical to life and your overall health including:

  • Filtering waste products and excess water and salts from the blood, which are then eliminated from the body through the ureters, bladder and urethra in the form of urine

  • Producing certain hormones, such as renin, which helps regulate blood pressure

  • Producing the active form of vitamin D (calcitrol)

  • Regulating electrolytes and other vital substances, such as sodium, calcium and potassium

  • Regulating the level and quality of fluid in the body

  • Stimulating red blood cell production

There are two general types of serious kidney disease:

  • Acute renal failure is a condition in which there is damage and deterioration of kidney function that occurs suddenly, generally over a period of days. Acute renal failure can be caused by such conditions as shock, acute pyelonephritis, urinary tract obstruction, or ingestion of certain toxic substances. In some cases, acute renal failure can be totally reversible without long-term consequences.

  • Chronic kidney disease is a condition in which there is damage and deterioration of kidney function that occurs over a long period of time, from months to years. Chronic kidney disease is generally caused by long-term diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Rapid diagnosis and treatment of many underlying causes of kidney disease may prevent or slow the progression of serious kidney damage that leads to chronic kidney disease or acute renal failure.

Kidney disease can be a serious or life-threatening condition because it can progress quickly and critically affect the ability of the kidneys to function normally. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of impaired kidney function, such as severe shortness of breath, bloody stools or urine, decrease in urinating or lack of urinating, or a change in consciousness or alertness. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have overdosed on a drug or ingested a toxic substance.


What are the symptoms of kidney disease?

Symptoms of kidney disease vary according to the underlying causes. General symptoms can include:

  • Cloudy or discolored urine

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Dizziness upon attempted standing

What causes kidney disease?

Kidney disease can be caused by a wide variety of underlying diseases, disorders or conditions that lead to kidney damage, such as obstruction, infection, malignancy, inflammation, deformity, toxic ingestion, or a reduced blood supply to the kidneys. Underlying causes include:

  • Diabetes, which can damage the kidneys over time

How is kidney disease treated?

Treatment of kidney disease varies depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. The goals of treatment are to cure the underlying condition, prevent excessive fluid and waste from accumulating in the body, and stop or slow the progression of damage to the kidneys. Treatment also aims to minimize complications of kidney disease.

General treatment of kidney diseas... Read more about kidney diseasetreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Kidneys and the Urinary System

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