If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with kidney failure, a lot may be going through your mind. The term kidney failure sounds like a scary diagnosis. It’s the final stage of chronic kidney disease, and it means your kidneys can no longer function on their own.
But while kidney failure is certainly a serious illness, there are treatment options treated, and how to care options like palliative and hospice care can help you and your family cope.
If you or a loved one is living with a terminal or chronic illness, contact the Sage Family of Companies today to talk about your options.
Kidney failure is a condition where one or both of your kidneys can’t function without medical intervention like dialysis or a transplant. This means they can’t filter waste from your blood on their own, which can lead to life-threatening complications. The condition is fatal if it’s not treated.
Kidney failure is the final and most severe stage of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and is also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
There are five stages of chronic kidney disease leading up to kidney failure. Each stage progresses in severity and is classified by how well your kidneys are functioning.
The five stages are categorized based on eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) test results. This medical term may sound somewhat complicated, but it’s essentially a measure of how well your kidneys are working. An eGFR of 90 or higher is considered normal.
Stage 1 is the earliest stage of kidney disease. If you have stage 1 CKD, your eGFR is at a normal range but you have mild damage to one or both of your kidneys. People in this stage normally don’t have any symptoms, as their kidneys are still working well. However, there may be other signs of early kidney troubles, like too much protein in your urine, which may be caught by routine tests.
Stage 2 is when you have an eGFR of 60 to 89. Generally, your kidneys are still working well, but you have mild damage. Many people with stage 2 kidney failure still don’t have symptoms, but their doctor may notice signs with an abnormal blood or urine test or see physical damage to your kidneys on a scan.
People with stage 3 CKD have an eGFR between 30 and 59, signaling mild to moderate kidney damage. If you have stage 3 CKD, your kidneys are no longer functioning well and are having trouble filtering waste out of your blood. This can cause build-up in your blood and lead to complications like hypertension, or high blood pressure, and anemia. At this stage, symptoms, such as fatigue, persistent itching, and swelling of your hands and feet, may begin to show.
Stage 3 kidney disease is split into two groups:
- Stage 3a CKD is an eGFR of 45 to 59
- Stage 3b CKD is an eGFR of 30 to 44
Stage 4 CKD means you have serious kidney damage and your kidneys may be close to not working at all. EGFR at stage 4 is between 15 and 30. Fluid buildup at stage 4 can lead to other health conditions like heart disease and bone disease. You may experience more symptoms at this stage.
Stage 4 CKD is the final stage before kidney failure. It’s vital to get regular checks from your doctor and to stick to a treatment to prevent kidney failure.
Stage 5 CKD means your kidneys are completely failing or are close to it. The waste and fluid buildup in the blood at this point can become life-threatening. During stage 5 kidney disease, eGFR is below 15. This is also referred to as end-stage renal disease (ESRD). If your kidneys are failing, you must get treatment, or the condition will turn fatal.
The symptoms of kidney failure can vary from person to person, but generally can include:
- Skin that is dry and very itchy
- Back and chest pain
- More frequent urination
- Lack of appetite
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle cramps
While kidney failure is terminal without treatment, there are options to manage the condition and make you feel better, helping you live as long as possible. There are two different treatments for kidney failure: dialysis and a kidney transplant.
Dialysis does some of the work of normal functioning kidneys by removing waste and fluid from your blood. There are two options for dialysis with kidney failure.
Hemodialysis uses an artificial kidney machine to clean your blood. This type of dialysis can be done at a dialysis center or at home.
With peritoneal dialysis, a provider inserts a catheter into your inner abdominal lining, called the peritoneal. During treatment, a cleansing solution flows from an attached bag into your abdomen. As it does, the peritoneal acts as a filter to remove waste from the blood.
After a period of time (usually a few hours), the fluid and waste drains back into the bag to be thrown away. Peritoneal dialysis is often performed at a hospital or dialysis center but sometimes can be done at home.
Another way to treat kidney failure is with a kidney transplant. During this procedure, a surgeon replaces your damaged kidney with a healthy one from a donor. The donor may be living or deceased.
If you or a loved one has chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, you might want to consider palliative care. This is a specialized type of care for people living with life-limiting illnesses. It aims to provide relief from symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.
Contrary to common misconceptions, palliative care doesn’t mean medical treatment stops. You’ll continue to receive treatment for kidney disease, such as dialysis, but you’ll also get additional care. This includes treatments focused on symptom relief, resources to help you and your family cope with the mental and emotional stresses of having a chronic illness, and if desired, spiritual guidance.
You can opt for palliative care at any stage of kidney failure, no matter your age.
Your care team will do everything they can to help you live as long as possible with kidney failure. However, there may be a time when treatment no longer works, or the burden outweighs the benefits. At this time, you and your family may want to consider hospice care.
Hospice is a specialized form of care that focuses on easing pain and other symptoms, as well as improving your quality of life as you prepare to transition to death. When you opt for hospice care, your doctor stops administering life-saving treatments like dialysis. But just because you’re no longer receiving curative treatment doesn’t mean you need to forgo other types of care.
In fact, hospice care focuses on the care of the whole person. You’ll receive physical, emotional, and spiritual support to help you cope with all terminal kidney failure challenges. Grief counseling and other caregiving resources are also available for your loved ones. You can receive hospice care at home or at a hospice facility.
These are some frequently asked questions about the five stages of kidney failure.
The average life expectancy if you’re treated with dialysis is five to 10 years, but some people go on to live on dialysis for up to three decades. People who receive a kidney transplant live an average of 15 to 20 years if the donor was living and 10 to 15 years if the donor was deceased.
Kidney failure is a serious condition, and without treatment, it will turn fatal. But if you receive treatment in the form of dialysis or a kidney transplant, you can go on to live a full life for years to come. Consider palliative care to help you manage symptoms and cope with the stresses of chronic kidney disease. Should the time come when treatment no longer works, a hospice care team can offer support.
The Sage Family of Companies is here to answer any questions you may have.