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What is End Stage Renal Disease?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2016
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The kidneys are vital organs that serve the body by removing waste and toxins, by helping to keep blood pressure stable, and by creating new red blood cells. End stage renal disease (ESRD) means the kidneys do not work and will never recover, and it may be more precisely defined as kidneys functioning at no more than 10% of capacity. This condition usually doesn’t occur quickly, and many people live for years with impaired but still functioning kidneys. Ultimately though, they may progress to ESRD. Without treatment, this condition is fatal, but there fortunately is treatment that can help extend the lives of many.

As mentioned, it isn’t that common for end stage renal disease to occur suddenly. This doesn’t mean it can’t. Fatal reactions to medications or poisons, or some injuries may result in total kidney dysfunction. Other causes of sudden ESRD include congenital defects. Yet most people may spend time in kidney failure for years, first, often as a result of conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or lupus. Sometimes chronic kidney disease improves and others times it progresses to end stage. Doctors will watch this carefully.

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Patients with chronic kidney failure may be told to look for additional symptoms of end stage renal disease. These could include no or decreased urination, presence of blood in stools, vomiting, and extreme fatigue. It is possible to go from feeling fatigued to absolutely exhausted or confused and to lapse into a coma. Others may feel flulike symptoms, have muscle cramps, or notice they bruise extremely easily. Without treatment, the body would shut down completely and fatality is the result.

There are certainly treatment options for most people with ESRD. They can choose to have dialysis of two types, called hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis. Alternately, kidney transplant may be an option.

Hemodialysis can take place at a medical facility or sometimes at home. It removes blood from the body, usually from a tube connected to the arm, and filters it of waste before replaced it back in the body via another tube. Hemodialysis for end stage renal disease has to be done several times a week.

Peritoneal dialysis uses a permanently placed catheter in the abdomen, which is connected to a bag or filtration machine at intervals. The body receives fluid called dialysate, which helps to clean the blood, and this is either removed by bag or machine. The different types of peritoneal dialysis can be discussed with a physician.

Lastly, kidney transplant may be an option for many people, but they do have to have a donor match. Family members in very good health may be able to donate a kidney, since it’s possible to live with just one. However, if the cause of end stage renal disease is an inherited condition, younger family members risk their own eventual health if they donate, which deserves consideration. Kidney transplantation methods continue to improve and may add years to life.

There are some who choose not to treat ESRD. If many quality of life issues be present, or if a person is elderly, they may not want to treat the condition and could have a living will stating this fact. Yet, for many others, it should be encouraging to know that failure of these vital organs can now be addressed in numerous ways.

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