What Happens When Your Kidneys Fail?

You can hear and feel your heartbeat, and you can see your chest rise and fall when your lungs fill with air, but kidneys fall into that dismissive category of “out of sight, out of mind” — until something goes wrong. 

Kidney failure can happen gradually or all at once depending on what’s causing it, but either way, it’s a serious, life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical attention, often involving the need for dialysis access.

That’s where our team of vascular specialists at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates come in. 

When you need the help of hemodialysis because of kidney failure, your veins need to be prepared to allow access through a port. Our experienced team specializes in creating and maintaining your access port for as long as you need it. 

Here’s what you need to know about your kidneys and dialysis access.

What your kidneys do

Behind the scenes, your kidneys are workhorses, constantly working to keep you healthy. They are amazing multitaskers that perform several important functions, including:

  • Filtering your blood to remove waste
  • Creating urine (eliminating waste)
  • Regulating blood pressure 
  • Triggering production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your lungs
  • Producing vitamin D, so you can absorb calcium for strong bones
  • Controlling the pH levels in your body

Clearly, you need your kidneys in tiptop shape in order to maintain good health, but several conditions can affect your kidneys and their ability to do their jobs.

Causes of kidney failure

Kidneys are susceptible to damage or failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and the causes vary. Although it can be genetic, ESRD can also be the result of diabetes or high blood pressure (two of the most common causes). 

Lupus is another known culprit, as is chronic urinary tract infection and nephrotic syndrome. Over time, your kidneys begin to falter.

These ongoing health conditions aren’t the only things that can lead to ESRD. You could experience sudden kidney failure due to a heart attack, drug abuse, or a lack of blood flow to your kidneys.

What ESRD feels like

Symptoms vary from person to person, and when they are mild, you may not realize they are symptoms at all. But familiarizing yourself with this list can help you keep an eye out for the signs. 

Typically, the early warning signs that your kidneys are starting to fail include:

  • Frequent muscle cramps
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Breathlessness
  • Change in urine output (too much or not enough)
  • Trouble sleeping

Again, these symptoms could also point to a long list of other mild to serious conditions, so it’s hard to know whether to be concerned. The best way to know for sure is to visit a specialist. 

But if you notice any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing sudden ESRD and need to seek immediate medical attention:

  • Bloody nose
  • Fever
  • Pain in your abdomen and back
  • Skin rash
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

These are signs of complete kidney failure and constitute an emergency.

Living with ESRD

If your kidneys are no longer functional, there’s no cure that will revive them, but kidney transplants are extremely safe and effective. Unfortunately, the wait list is long.  

In the meantime, there’s a treatment that can help you live very comfortably for many years — hemodialysis or dialysis. This is a process that filters your blood and creates urine just the way your kidneys once did, only it occurs outside your body.

In order to make this possible, you need to give the dialysis machine access to your veins, and that’s where we come in. We can either place a temporary catheter in a vein in your neck, or we can create a permanent port that connects an artery and a vein in your arm. 

Since you’ll be living with your dialysis access port until you receive a kidney transplant (if you’re a candidate), we’re with you for the long haul. 

We monitor your port regularly and address any issues that might arise right here in our outpatient facility. Our priority is keeping your access port problem-free so you can enjoy life to the fullest.

If you’re experiencing early or end-stage kidney failure and need a dialysis access port, count on us to skillfully provide the care and expertise you need. For more details, call us at any of our five locations or request an appointment online today. 

We have New York offices in Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, and the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, as well as in Englewood, New Jersey.