End-stage kidney disease  

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End-stage kidney disease


End-stage kidney disease is a complete or near complete failure of the kidneys to function to excrete wastes, concentrate urine, and regulate electrolytes. Also called End-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Alternative Names

Renal failure - end stage; Kidney failure - end stage; ESRD


End-stage kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are no longer able to function at a level that is necessary for day to day life. It usually occurs as chronic renal failure worsens to the point where kidney function is less than 10% of normal.

At this point, the kidney function is so low that without dialysis or kidney transplantation, complications are multiple and severe, and death will occur from accumulation of fluids and waste products in the body.

In the U.S., more than 400,000 people are on long-term dialysis and more than 20,000 have a functioning transplanted kidney. The most common cause of ESRD in the U.S. is diabetes. ESRD almost always follows chronic kidney failure, which may exist for 10-20 years or more before progressing to become ESRD.


  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • General ill feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Generalized itching
  • Greatly decreased urine output
  • No urine output
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • May have blood in the vomit or stools
  • Decreased alertness
    • drowsiness, somnolence, lethargy
    • confusion, delirium
    • coma
  • Muscle twitching or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Increased skin pigmentation
  • Skin may appear yellow or brown
  • Nail abnormalities
  • Decreased sensation in the hands, feet, or other areas

Exams and Tests

The patient usually has a long history of chronic kidney failure, which has progressed. The person may have required dialysis to control chronic renal failure. The urine volume may decrease or urine production may stop totally. Signs of complications commonly are present.

  • Creatinine and BUN levels are chronically high.
  • Creatinine clearance is very low.


Dialysis or kidney transplantation are the only treatments for ESRD. The physical condition of the person and other factors determines which of these is used. Other treatments of chronic kidney failure may continue but are unlikely to work without dialysis or transplantation. Current therapy includes aggressive treatment of high blood pressure with an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin receptor blocker.

Associated diseases that cause or result from chronic renal failure must be controlled. Hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, obstructions of the urinary tract, glomerulonephritis, and other disorders should be treated.

Blood transfusions and medications such as iron and erythropoietin may be needed to control anemia. Fluids may be restricted to an amount nearly equal to the volume of urine produced.

Dietary restrictions may slow the build-up of wastes in the bloodstream and control associated symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Restrictions include a low- protein diet, with high carbohydrate levels to make up for the lost calories. Salt, potassium, phosphorus, and other electrolytes may be restricted.

Support Groups

For additional resources, see kidney disease support group.

Outlook (Prognosis)

ESRD is fatal unless treated with dialysis or transplantation. Both of these treatments can have serious risks and consequences. The outcome varies and is unique to each individual.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms indicating end-stage kidney disease have developed. Call your health care provider if known acute or chronic kidney failure persists or worsens.


Treatment of chronic kidney failure may delay or prevent progression to ESRD. Some cases may not be preventable.

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