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Your Kidneys and How They Work

What Happens If My Kidneys Fail Completely?

If your kidneys stop working completely, your body fills with extra water and waste products. This condition is called uremia. Your hands or feet may swell. You will feel tired and weak because your body needs clean blood to function properly.

Untreated end-stage renal disease may lead to seizures or coma and will ultimately result in death. If your kidneys stop working completely, you will need to undergo dialysis or kidney transplant.

Dialysis

The two major forms of dialysis are hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. In hemodialysis, your blood is sent through a machine that filters away waste products. The clean blood is returned to your body. Hemodialysis is usually performed at a dialysis center three times per week for 3 or 4 hours.

Hemodialysis

Peritoneal dialysis

In peritoneal dialysis, a fluid is put into your abdomen. This fluid, called dialysate, captures the waste products from your blood. After a few hours, the dialysate containing your body's wastes is drained away. Then, a fresh bag of dialysate is dripped into the abdomen. Patients can learn to do this themselves without going to a doctor's office each time. Patients using continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), the most common form of peritoneal dialysis, change dialysate four times a day.

Transplantation

A donated kidney may come from an anonymous donor who has recently died or from a living person, usually a relative. The kidney that you receive must be a good match for your body. The more the new kidney is like you, the less likely your immune system is to reject it. Your immune system protects you from disease by attacking anything that is not recognized as a normal part of your body. So your immune system will attack a kidney that appears too "foreign." Special drugs can help trick your immune system so it does not reject a transplanted kidney.

Kidney transplantation

What Will the Future Bring?

As our understanding of the causes of kidney failure increases, so will our ability to predict and prevent these diseases. Recent studies have shown that intensive control of diabetes and high blood pressure can prevent or delay the onset of kidney disease.

In the area of genetics, researchers have located two genes that cause the most common form of PKD and are narrowing in on a third gene that causes a less common form. This new knowledge will be used in the search for effective therapies to prevent or treat PKD.

In the area of transplantation, new drugs to help the body accept foreign tissue increase the likelihood that a transplanted kidney will survive and function normally. To combat the shortage of organs available for transplantation, scientists are exploring the possibility of using organs from animals. If this method is found to be medically feasible and ethically acceptable, the time a patient must wait for a usable kidney could be greatly reduced. In the distant future, scientists may develop an artificial kidney for implantation.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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