Early symptoms of kidney failure often goes unnoticed. The Department of Renal Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) shares the causes and symptoms of kidney failure, and how the condition is treated and prevented.
kidney failure can occur over a few hours or few days, it typically develops over months or even years.
Having kidney failure means your kidneys are unable to filter excess fluids and waste products from your blood. This results in a dangerous buildup of toxins, fluids and wastes in the blood. To stay alive, you need regular kidney dialysis, or a kidney transplant.
“Although kidney failure is potentially life-threatening, acute kidney failure may be reversible if the underlying cause of the sudden loss of kidney function is treated or removed early,” says
Associate Professor Terence Kee, Senior Consultant,
Department of Renal Medicine,
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the
What causes kidney failure?
Conditions leading to acute kidney failure, or sudden loss of kidney function, include the following:
Inflammation of the kidney filters (acute
Sudden reduced blood flow to the kidneys (due to surgery, septic shock, severe dehydration and haemorrhagic injuries)
Blood clots and infections in the urinary tract
Blood clots in the kidney arteries and vessels
Certain cancers (prostate, colon, cervical)
As for chronic kidney failure, or the progressive loss of kidney function over a longer period of time, its two main causes are poorly managed diabetes and chronic glomerulonephritis.
Other conditions such as cysts and recurrent kidney infections may also cause the kidneys to gradually lose their waste-filtering capacity.
“If you suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure, it is really important that you properly manage your condition in order to prevent chronic kidney failure, which can progress to end-stage kidney disease,” says Assoc Prof Terence Kee.
Symptoms of kidney failure
Early stages of kidney failure usually show no specific symptoms. However, if there are symptoms, they can be easily mistaken for trivial conditions:
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
Fatigue and unwell feelings
Persistent itching and dry skin
Muscle cramps and muscle twitching
Decreased mental alertness
As chronic kidney failure progressively worsens, the following symptoms may appear:
Swelling of feet and ankles
Lesser need to urinate
Drowsiness and confusion
Shortness of breath
Low sex drive
Rising high blood pressure
Treatment of kidney failure
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause for the kidney failure.
Kidney failure may be reversible if it has developed suddenly due to an autoimmune disease, an infection or physical injury to the kidneys. For example, doctors can treat blood clots, kidney stones and any infections causing the sudden kidney failure.
“Chronic kidney failure is usually not reversible. The goal of treatment is to slow progression towards end-stage kidney disease,” says Assoc Prof Terence Kee.
High blood pressure control is important in combating kidney disease. Doctors may prescribe angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) to lower high blood pressure.
10 Ways to prevent kidney failure
You can reduce stress on your kidneys with the following lifestyle changes.
Eat a diet low in sugar, salt and fat. Prepare your own meals (as much as possible). Doing so allows you to control what goes into your food
Avoid a high-protein diet that can overtax the kidneys
Practice portion control - Have 2 servings of fruits and 2 servings of vegetables daily, with whole grains and lean meat
Minimise your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic illness. Maintain a healthy weight by keeping active and not overeating
If you have diabetes or are diagnosed with hypertension:
Maintain good blood sugar levels
Keep blood pressure in the normal range
Control blood cholesterol
Visit your doctor regularly
Take your medication as prescribed
Limit alcohol consumption (max of two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women)
Do not smoke
Maintain a healthy body weight (Asian should aim for a BMI of 18.5 to 22.9)
Exercise 3 to 5 times per week, for a total of 150 minutes
of moderate to vigorous exercise
Early health screenings are key to detecting kidney failure, as most people with early stages of kidney disease do not present clear symptoms
Check out other articles on kidney health:
Glomerulonephritis: A Leading Cause of Kidney Disease
Kidney Cancer: How It Is Diagnosed and Treated
Link Between Red Meat and Kidney Failure
Kidney Stones: Causes and Common Symptoms
Kidney Failure in Singapore: Quick Facts
How Diabetes Affects Your Kidneys and More
SGH Kidney Transplant Reaches New Milestone