Chronic renal failure, or chronic kidney disease (CKD), is a slow and progressive decline of kidney function. It's usually a result of a complication from another serious medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. Unlike acute renal failure, which happens quickly and suddenly, chronic renal failure happens gradually – over a period of weeks, months, or years – as the kidneys slowly stop working, leading to end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
The progression is so slow that symptoms usually don't appear until major damage is done. In Canada, approximately 1 in every 10 Canadians has chronic kidney disease.
The kidneys play three major roles:
- removing waste products from the body, keeping toxins from building up in the bloodstream
- producing hormones that control other body functions, such as regulating blood pressure and producing red blood cells
- regulating the levels of minerals or electrolytes (e.g., sodium, calcium, and potassium) and fluid in the body
Most people have two functioning kidneys. It's entirely possible to live a full, healthy life with only one kidney – one fully functioning kidney can do the work of two – but it's essential to watch for signs of any problems with the remaining kidney.
When kidneys get to the point where they can't function at all, kidney dialysis or a transplant is the only way to remove the body's waste products.