Tests and exams to detect end-stage renal disease may include:
- A discussion of your health history, including your personal health history and questions about your family's health history.
- A physical exam, during which your doctor measures your height, weight and blood pressure and also looks for signs of problems with your heart or blood vessels and conducts a neurological exam.
- Blood tests, to measure the amount of waste products, such as creatinine and urea, in your blood.
- Urine tests, to check the level of the protein albumin in your urine — a high albumin level may indicate kidney disease.
- Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging or a computed tomography (CT) scan, to assess your kidneys' structure and size and look for abnormalities.
- Removing a sample of kidney tissue (biopsy), to examine under a microscope to learn what type of kidney disease you have and how much damage there is.
Certain tests may be repeated over time to help your doctor follow the progress of your kidney disease.
Stages of kidney disease
There are five stages of kidney disease. To determine what stage kidney disease you have, your doctor performs a blood test to check your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). The GFR measures how much blood the kidneys filter each minute, recorded as milliliters per minute (mL/min). As the GFR declines, so does your kidney function.
When your kidneys are no longer able to work at a level that's necessary for day-to-day life, you have end-stage renal disease. End-stage renal disease usually occurs when kidney function is less than 10 percent of normal.
As a part of kidney disease staging, your doctor also may test whether protein is present in your urine.
|Kidney disease stage
|National Kidney Foundation
||90 or above
||Normal or near-normal kidney function
||60 to 89
||Mild loss of kidney function
||45 to 59
||Mild to moderate loss of kidney function
||30 to 44
||Moderate to severe loss of kidney function
||15 to 29
||Severe loss of kidney function
||Less than 15
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End-stage renal disease treatment may include:
- Kidney transplant
- Supportive care
A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure to place a healthy kidney from a live or deceased donor into a person whose kidneys no longer function properly. A kidney transplant is often the treatment of choice for end-stage renal disease, compared with a lifetime on dialysis.
The kidney transplant process takes time. It involves finding a donor, living or deceased, whose kidney best matches your own. You then undergo a surgical procedure to place the new kidney in your lower abdomen and attach the blood vessels and ureter — the tube that links the kidney to the bladder — that will allow the new kidney to function.
You'll spend several days to a week in the hospital. After leaving the hospital, you'll have frequent checkups as your recovery continues. You'll take a number of medications to help keep your immune system from rejecting your new kidney and to reduce the risk of post-surgery complications, such as infection.
After a successful kidney transplant, your new kidney filters your blood, and you no longer need dialysis.
Dialysis does some of the work of your kidneys when your kidneys can't do it themselves. This includes removing extra fluids and waste products from your blood, restoring electrolyte levels, and helping control your blood pressure.
Dialysis options include peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis.
During peritoneal dialysis, blood vessels in your abdominal lining (peritoneum) fill in for your kidneys with the help of a fluid that washes in and out of the peritoneal space. Peritoneal dialysis is done in your home.
During hemodialysis, a machine does some of the work of the kidneys by filtering harmful wastes, salts and fluid from your blood. Hemodialysis may be done at a center or in your home.
For dialysis to be successful, you may need to make lifestyle changes, such as following certain dietary recommendations.
With supportive care, your symptoms are managed so that you feel better. You may choose supportive care alone or combine it with other treatment options.
Without either dialysis or a transplant, kidney failure progresses, eventually leading to death. In some people, the disease progresses slowly over months and years, while in others the disease progresses quickly.
Potential future treatments
Regenerative medicine holds the potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, offering solutions and hope for people who have conditions that today are beyond repair.
Regenerative medicine approaches include:
- Boosting the body's natural ability to heal itself
- Using healthy cells, tissues or organs from a living or deceased donor to replace damaged ones
- Delivering specific types of cells or cell products to diseased tissues or organs to restore tissue and organ function
For people with kidney disease, regenerative medicine approaches may be developed in the future to help slow progression of the disease.
Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.
Lifestyle and home remedies
As part of your treatment for kidney disease, your doctor may recommend a special diet to help support your kidneys and limit the work they must do. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can analyze your current diet and suggest ways to make your diet easier on your kidneys.
Depending on your situation, kidney function and overall health, your dietitian may recommend that you:
- Avoid products with added salt. Lower the amount of sodium you eat each day by avoiding products with added salt, including many convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, canned soups and fast foods. Other foods with added salt include salty snack foods, canned vegetables, and processed meats and cheeses.
- Choose lower potassium foods. Your dietitian may recommend that you choose lower potassium foods at each meal. High-potassium foods include bananas, oranges, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes. Examples of low-potassium foods include apples, cabbage, carrots, green beans, grapes and strawberries. Be aware that many salt substitutes contain potassium, so you generally should avoid them if you have kidney failure.
- Limit the amount of protein you eat. Your dietitian will estimate the appropriate number of grams of protein you need each day and make recommendations based on that amount. High-protein foods include lean meats, eggs, milk, cheese and beans. Low-protein foods include vegetables, fruits, breads and cereals.
Coping and support
Learning you're in kidney failure may come as a shock, even if you've known about your kidney disease for a while. It may be difficult managing the treatment schedule if you're on dialysis.
To help you cope, consider trying to:
- Connect with other people who have kidney disease. Other people with end-stage renal disease understand what you're feeling and can offer unique support. If you aren't already a part of one, ask your doctor about support groups in your area. Or contact organizations such as the American Association of Kidney Patients, the National Kidney Foundation or the American Kidney Fund for groups in your area.
- Maintain your normal routine, when possible. Try to maintain a normal routine, doing the activities you enjoy and continuing to work, if your condition allows. This may help you cope with feelings of sadness or loss after learning that your kidney disease has progressed.
- Be active most days of the week. With your doctor's advice, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. This can help you cope with fatigue and stress.
- Talk with a person you trust. Living with kidney disease can be stressful, and it may help to talk about your feelings. You may have a friend or family member who is a good listener. Or you may find it helpful to talk with a faith leader or someone else you trust. Ask your doctor for a referral to a social worker or counselor.
Preparing for your appointment
For end-stage renal disease, you'll likely continue to see the same doctor and care team you've been seeing for treatment of chronic kidney disease. If you're not already being cared for by a nephrologist — a doctor who specializes in kidney problems — you may be referred to one as your disease progresses.
What you can do
To get ready for your appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do ahead of time, such as limit your diet. Then make a list of:
- Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to your kidneys or urinary function
- All your medications and doses, vitamins or other supplements that you take
- Your key medical history, including any other medical conditions
- Questions to ask your doctor, listing the most important ones first in case time runs short
Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be hard to remember everything you talked about with your doctor, and a relative or friend may hear something that you missed or forgot.
For end-stage renal disease, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the level of damage to my kidneys?
- Is my kidney function worsening?
- Do I need more tests?
- What's causing my condition?
- Can the damage to my kidneys be reversed?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the potential side effects of each treatment?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Do I need to eat a special diet?
- Can you refer me to a dietitian who can help me plan my meals?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
- How often do I need to have my kidney function tested?
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions during your appointment as they occur to you.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor may ask you questions, such as:
- Are you experiencing any symptoms, such as changes in your urinary habits or unusual fatigue?
- How long have you had symptoms?
- Have you been diagnosed or treated for high blood pressure?
- Have you noticed any changes in your urinary habits?
- Does anyone in your family have kidney disease?
- What medications are you currently taking? What doses?