How is kidney failure treated?

Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys lose 85%–90% of their function. When this happens, your kidneys won’t be able to function properly to support life.

The only ultimate cure for permanent kidney failure is a transplant. Until then, however, there are treatments available that can help relieve symptoms, address complications, help you feel better, make you healthier, and live longer. These treatments include dialysis, dietary and lifestyle factors, conservative treatment, and more.

This article will review the various treatments available for kidney failure. Knowing your options can help you talk with your healthcare provider to determine what’s best for you.

diet and exercise

Although kidney failure can be treated in a number of ways, health can be promoted through lifestyle changes. If you choose conservative treatment for kidney failure, the focus will be on quality of life and symptom control without dialysis (a procedure that removes waste and excess water from the blood) or a kidney transplant.

Healthy kidneys help filter out waste and balance salts and minerals in the body.

Kidney failure cannot do this, so changing your diet can help you restore and maintain a healthy balance of salt, minerals, and nutrients. The diet that works best for you will depend on the treatment you choose, so discuss any appropriate dietary changes with your healthcare provider.

There are some general steps you can take to make changes to your diet, including:

  • Avoid too much salt: buy fresh, use seasonings instead of salt, swap low-sodium foods for favorites, and rinse canned foods before serving.
  • Eat the right amount of protein: Eating small amounts of protein means your kidneys don’t have to work as hard.
  • Add heart-healthy foods to your diet: Avoid deep frying. Instead, grill or bake your food, remove fat from meat, and limit saturated and trans fats.
  • Choose foods that are low in phosphorus: When phosphorus levels in your body rise, calcium levels drop, making your bones weaker. Good choices include fresh fruit and vegetables, bread or pasta, corn and rice noodles, and light sodas.
  • Watch the potassium content of your food: Too much potassium can interfere with nerve and muscle function, and can also cause heart rhythm problems. Foods to choose from include apples, peaches, carrots, white pasta, rice milk and white rice.

A dietitian who specializes in medical nutrition therapy can help you develop an eating plan that provides you with the necessary nutrients, keeping in mind your kidney failure and how it affects you.

Exercise can be very helpful in slowing the progression of chronic kidney disease, but if your kidneys are failing, talk to your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

Things to keep in mind when starting an exercise program (approved by your healthcare provider) include:

  • Continuous movements like walking or swimming allow you to move many large muscle groups in a row. Low-level strength exercises may also be beneficial.
  • Start exercising for a short time, then work your way up to 30 minutes. If you want to walk 45 minutes or more, feel free, but listen to your body and stop when needed.
  • Exercise at least three days a week to benefit.
  • You should be able to talk while exercising and not be prevented from exercising during your next workout because of the pain. Start slowly and build up an intensity level.
  • Wait at least an hour after meals to exercise and avoid exercising less than an hour before bed. Avoid exercising outdoors in hot weather.
  • Stop exercising if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or irregular heartbeat, upset stomach, light-headedness or dizziness.

Ask your healthcare provider when it is safe to start exercising again if any of the following occurs:

  • You changed your dialysis schedule.
  • Your physical health has changed.
  • You have bone or joint problems.

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Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

There are no over-the-counter medicines to treat kidney failure.

That being said, certain over-the-counter medications do have the potential to cause further damage to the kidneys of people with kidney disease, especially if they are taken while dehydrated or with low blood pressure.

In fact, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) under these conditions may cause kidney damage. NSAIDs include drugs such as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). Brand names may vary, so be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking.

Antacids can interfere with electrolyte balance, so consult your healthcare provider before use.

If you need cold medicine or pain relievers for other health-related concerns, talk with your healthcare provider about which medicines are safe to take, as this is not an exhaustive list. Depending on any of your underlying medical conditions, your provider may recommend avoiding additional over-the-counter medications.

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Kidney failure may require prescription medication. They can help with complications caused by kidney failure. Medications may include:

  • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs): These help prevent and treat anemia (a lack of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body) because the kidneys don’t make enough erythropoietin (EPO, a protein) cells for red blood cells .
  • Phosphate binders: The kidneys are unable to remove excess phosphorus, which can weaken bones. These medications help reduce the amount of phosphate your body absorbs.
  • Calcium and vitamin D: Calcium and vitamin D levels can be abnormal because the kidneys cannot maintain the correct balance in the body.
  • Blood pressure medication: High blood pressure occurs when the kidneys fail, further damaging the kidneys.
  • Potassium binders: When the kidneys don’t work properly, they don’t remove enough potassium from the blood, which can cause problems with the heart and muscles. These drugs attach to excess potassium and help your body get rid of it.
  • Iron supplements: These help prevent anemia, a common complication of kidney failure.

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Surgery and expert-driven procedures

Surgery and specialist-driven procedures for kidney failure include:

  • Kidney transplant
  • hemodialysis
  • peritoneal dialysis

Kidney transplant

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure in which a healthy donor kidney is placed in your body. The donor kidney is responsible for filtering waste from the failing kidney. This is the ultimate cure for end-stage renal disease.

However, sometimes the transplanted kidney may be rejected by your body and you may need to go on dialysis again. To prevent this possibility, as long as the donor kidney is functioning, you must take medication to lower the chances of your body rejecting it. However, these drugs may cause other health problems.

That being said, a kidney transplant can help you live a longer, healthier life.


In hemodialysis, a machine is used to filter the blood outside your body. The filtered blood is then returned to your body. This process removes waste and excess fluid, helps control blood pressure, and helps restore the balance of minerals like potassium and sodium in the body.

In addition to diet, medication, and fluid restriction, this process can help you feel better. Hemodialysis procedures are performed at a dialysis center, or less frequently at home.

peritoneal dialysis

In home peritoneal dialysis, the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) is used to filter out waste and excess fluid.

During surgery, a catheter is permanently placed in the abdomen (abdomen). For the dialysis procedure, the dialysis solution is evacuated into the abdomen through a catheter. When empty, disconnect the catheter. The solution then absorbs all waste and excess liquid. After a few hours, the dialysate drains into the bag through another tube. Then start the process again with a new solution.

The two different types of peritoneal dialysis are:

  • Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD): One exchange takes 30-40 minutes, several times a day, with solution in the stomach at night.
  • Automated peritoneal dialysis: A machine called a cycler performs three to five exchanges at night. You may also need to do a swap during the day without the machine.

Your healthcare provider will discuss the differences with you and help you decide which type is best for your lifestyle and illness.

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary medicine is used alongside traditional medicine while alternative medicine is used to replace traditional medicine.

While many of the treatments below are forms of complementary or alternative therapy, the difference is in how they are used – not traditional medical treatments, but traditional medical treatments. CAM therapy includes:

  • acupuncture
  • relaxation techniques
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • massage therapy
  • Reiki
  • Dietary Supplements

Although many supplements or herbs are natural, they can still interfere with medication and adversely affect your kidneys. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider about any complementary or alternative treatments that interest you before trying them.

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Treatment options for kidney failure include lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, prescription drugs, dialysis, CAM therapy, and kidney transplantation.

These treatments remove waste from your body; maintain a healthy balance of salt, minerals, protein, and electrolytes; and reduce the burden on your kidneys so they don’t have to work harder.

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VigorTip words

Kidney failure can be overwhelming. Fortunately, treatment often proves beneficial. Still, what works best for one person may not work for another. Work with your healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan to ensure better health for you.