Diseases of the kidney are a major health concern in the United States, affecting more than 31 million Americans and causing more than 100,000 deaths annually. Impaired kidney function can occur suddenly or take place gradually over months and years. The condition can be temporary and reversible or permanent and life-threatening. In either case, without dialysis treatment or kidney transplant, the condition is life threatening.
In addition to physical trauma or damage from an accident, common conditions that lead to kidney failure include diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension (or high blood pressure) and an inflammation of the kidneys called glomerulonephritis. Other possible causes of kidney disease or failure can come from kidney stones, reduced blood flow to the kidneys, diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus or certain drugs. Inherited kidney diseases, most commonly polycystic kidney disease, can also cause kidney failure.
Although a single kidney is generally capable of providing adequate function, when both kidneys fail the body suffers serious consequences. There is an accumulation of toxic substances (urea and creatinine) and an increase in the volume of water in the body. This excess water results in swelling of tissues and high blood pressure and prevents normal activity of other organs in the body such as the heart and lungs. In addition, normal acidity and chemical balance cannot be maintained without adequate kidney function. For example, if the body cannot rid itself of excess phosphate, calcium levels will drop resulting in bone disease.
If total kidney function drops below 10 percent of normal capacity and the impairment is irreversible and permanent, the condition is known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD).