Your kidneys filter waste and extra fluid from your blood, and your body gets rid of them through urine. If your kidneys don’t work well, those things can stay in your blood. That condition is called uremia, or uremic syndrome.
As waste and fluid build up in your blood, you might:
- Feel nauseated
- Feel itchy
- Lose your appetite or taste for some foods
- Feel more tired than usual
- Lose weight
- Have trouble concentrating
- Feel pain, numbness, or cramps in your legs or feet (caused by damage to your nerves)
If it’s not treated, uremia can also cause other problems, like:
If your doctor thinks you might have uremia, he may recommend that you see a kidney specialist, called a nephrologist. She can do a few tests to see how well your kidneys are working:
Blood tests. These measure certain things in your blood, including a chemical called creatinine and a waste product called urea. Based on how much creatinine is there, your doctor can use a formula to figure out your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). This will show how much blood your kidneys can clean every minute. The lower the number, the more damaged your kidneys are.
Urinalysis. Your doctor will take a sample of your pee to look for things like blood cells or proteins that shouldn’t be there if your kidneys are working well.
This depends on the reason for the problem with your kidneys. If it’s caused by a condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, treating that may keep them from getting worse.
If your kidneys are damaged to the point that they’re failing, you may need help getting waste out of your blood. One option is a process called dialysis. It usually involves pumping your blood through a machine that cleans it and sends it back into your body. It can take several hours, and most people who need the treatment need to have it done 3 times a week at a medical center.
About 10% of people who need dialysis use a different kind, called peritoneal dialysis. With this, the space around the organs in your belly is filled with a fluid that draws wastes out. The fluid is then drained out through a tube in your belly. This can be done at home but still needs to be done regularly.
If your problem is caused by a long-term illness that has seriously damaged your kidneys, you’ll probably need dialysis for the rest of your life, unless you get a kidney from a donor. Doctors do more than 17,000 kidney transplants a year, but there are far fewer kidneys available than there are people who need them. It can take more than 3 years to get a transplant.
A kidney transplant is major surgery, and you’ll need to be watched carefully by your doctor and take drugs that keep your body from rejecting the new organ for several years afterward.