Renal Failure Symptoms

Updated July 19, 2017

Renal failure is a loss of kidney function that is either sudden or chronic. Many causes can be attributed to renal failure and it can be treatable or non-treatable, depending upon the severity or causes. Symptoms of renal failure are broken down into three categories depending upon the severity of the condition--acute, chronic or end stage renal failure. Detecting renal failure symptoms early can make a significant difference in the ability to treat a patient.


The kidneys have many important functions, such as filtering the blood and removing waste, controlling blood pressure, conserving electrolytes and stimulating the production of red blood cells. When the kidneys do not function properly, excess water and waste products back up into the rest of the body. Renal failure occurs when there is any interference of blood flow to the kidneys.


According to the Baylor College of Medicine's Department of Surgery in Houston, Texas, renal failure causes can occur for many reasons. Infection, trauma, chemical exposure, medications, vascular diseases and urinary blockage are just a few reasons renal failure can occur. People who suffer from diabetes, sickle cell anaemia, blood disorders, liver disease, immune disorders, chronic infection, high blood pressure or alcohol or drug abuse are also at risk for renal failure. Vascular surgery patients can also be at risk of developing renal failure.

Acute Renal Failure Symptoms

Acute renal failure can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated within a few days. The symptoms include nausea and vomiting, headache, drowsiness, back pain and little to no urine output. Other symptoms include swelling of the ankles, feet or legs, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, seizures, or coma in severe cases. In the majority of cases, if the cause of acute renal failure is found and treated in a timely fashion, complete recovery can occur.

Chronic Renal Failure Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic renal failure is the progressive loss of the kidneys' ability to filter blood allowing dangerous levels of waste products and fluids to build up in the body. In many cases, patients do not recognise a problem until they have lost 75 per cent of their kidney function. Chronic renal failure symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure, low urine output, anaemia, dark coloured urine, appetite loss, weight gain or loss, headaches, swelling of feet or ankles, persistent itching, muscle twitches, leg cramps, yellowish skin colour, easy bruising, and side pain or pain in the mid or lower back. Treatment of chronic renal failure is mainly to halt or slow down the progression of the disease by treating the underlying causes.

End Stage Renal Failure Symptoms

End stage renal failure is only treatable through dialysis or a kidney transplant. Symptoms of end stage renal failure are very low output of urine, lethargy, headaches, extremely itchy skin, swelling of the abdomen, arms, legs and face, muscle twitching or cramps, blood in vomit or stools, fuzzy tongue and ammonia smelling breath. End stage renal failure generally occurs when chronic renal failure has progressed to where the kidneys are only functioning at 10 per cent of their capability.


Although renal failure symptoms are often undetectable, especially in the chronic stage, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and discuss these with your doctor. The sooner renal failure is detected, the quicker it can be treated and, in some cases, a complete recovery can be achieved.

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About the Author

Deanna Lynn Sletten has been writing articles for print media and the Internet since 1995. She began her writing career producing articles for regional parenting publications like "Minnesota Parent" and "New York Family Times." She currently writes for Demand Studios, She Knows and several other popular Web sites.