Renal (Kidney) Insufficiency

Your kidneys remove waste products and extra water from your body. When your kidneys don’t work as they should, waste products build up in your blood. The early stage of this process is called renal insufficiency. If renal insufficiency gets worse, you can develop chronic renal failure. This allows extra water, waste, and toxic substances to build up in your body. This can become life threatening. You may need dialysis or a kidney transplant. The most serious form of renal insufficiency is end-stage renal disease.

Diabetes is the main cause of renal insufficiency.  Other causes include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Hardening of the arteries

  • Lupus

  • Inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis)

  • Viral or bacterial infection

Some over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines can cause renal failure if you take them for a long time. These include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Home care

Follow these tips when caring for yourself at home:

  • If you have diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider about controlling your blood sugar. Ask if you need to make any changes to your diet, lifestyle, or medicines.

  • If you have high blood pressure:

    • Take your prescribed medicine. Your goal is to lower your blood pressure to less than 130/80, or as recommended by your provider.

    • Start a regular exercise program that you enjoy. Check with your healthcare provider to be sure your planned exercise program is right for you.

    • Cut back on the amount of salt (sodium) you eat. Your healthcare provider can tell you how much salt each day is safe for you.

    • Monitor and record your blood pressure at home on a regular schedule. Ask your provider to teach you how to correctly check your BP. Bring the BP records with you to your appointments.

  • If you are overweight, talk with your healthcare provider about a weight loss plan.

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking makes kidney disease worse. Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to help you quit. For more information, visit:

    • smokefree.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/clearing-the-air-accessible.pdf

    • www.smokefree.gov

    • www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about any restrictions you should make in your diet. In general, you should limit the amount of protein, salt, potassium, and phosphorus. Don’t drink too many fluids. Don’t add salt at the table, and stay away from salty foods. You may need a calcium supplement to help prevent osteoporosis.

  • If you or your family feel overwhelmed by the dietary restrictions, ask for a referral to a registered dietitian. This person can help you understand and plan your diet.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about any medicines you are currently taking to find out if they need to be reduced or stopped.

  • Before starting any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, herbal supplements, or vitamins, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Make sure they won't harm your kidneys.

  • Don’t take the following OTC medicines, or talk with your healthcare provider before you take them:

    • Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other NSAIDs. You may be able to use these for a short time to help with fever or pain.

    • Laxatives and antacids with magnesium or aluminum

    • Phospho soda enemas with phosphorus

    • Certain stomach acid-blocking medicine such as cimetidine or ranitidine

    • Decongestants with pseudoephedrine

    • Herbal supplements

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.  Contact one of the following for more information:

  • American Association of Kidney Patients, www.aakp.org

  • National Kidney Foundation, www.kidney.org

  • American Kidney Fund, www.kidneyfund.org

  • National Kidney Disease Education Program, www.nkdep.nih.gov

Call 911

Call 911 if any of the following occur:

  • Severe weakness, dizziness, fainting, drowsiness, or confusion

  • Chest pain or shortness of breath

  • Heart beating fast, slowly, or irregularly

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Unexpected weight gain or swelling in the legs, ankles, or around your eyes

  • You don’t urinate as much as normal, or you aren’t able to urinate

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