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What is Kidney (Renal) Failure?

Sometimes kidneys are no longer able to filter and clean blood. This can cause unsafe levels of waste products to build up. This is known as kidney (or renal) failure. Unless it is treated, this can cause death.

Female Urinary Tract
Female Urinary Tract
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

Male Urinary Tract
Male Urinary Tract
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

How the kidneys filter waste from your blood
How the kidneys filter waste from your blood
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health

What are Kidneys?

The kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are found in your back on either side of the spine. Healthy kidneys clean waste products from the blood by making urine. They also balance the amount of certain elements in your blood (such as sodium, potassium, and calcium), and make hormones that control blood pressure and red blood cells.

What is Kidney Failure?

Kidney (renal) failure is when kidneys don't work as well as they should. The term "kidney failure" covers a lot of problems. These problems can result in kidney failure:

  • Your kidney doesn't get enough blood to filter
  • Your kidney is hurt by a disease like
    • high blood sugar (diabetes)
    • high blood pressure
    • glomerulonephritis (damage to the kidney's tiny filters)
    • polycystic kidney disease
  • Your kidney is blocked by a kidney stone or scar tissue