Ready to Get Started? Contact Us

Effects of Kidney Failure on Body Systems

By Laminate Medical
Share Article

Kidney failure is generally a multi-organ health issue, with a variety of cross effects on different body systems.

The Blood System

Damaged kidneys slow the production of the hormone erythropoietin, resulting in anemia and iron deficiency. Anemia may cause irritability, tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness and if untreated may cause heart failure and organ failure. Most people with end stage renal failure will suffer from anemia. Anemia may be treated by taking supplements, red cell blood transfusions and adherence to an iron rich diet.

The Cardio-Vascular System

Kidney failure raises the risk of cardiovascular problems, and subsequently – the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Kidney failure affects the heart in several ways:

  • Fluid builds up around the lungs, heart and other body tissue, over-taxing the heart and causing a rise in blood pressure.
  • Impaired kidney function causes a buildup of urea (a by-product of dietary protein). High levels of urea (called uremia) are toxic, and cause inflammation of the pericardium.
  • Kidney disease may result in a buildup of fluid and salt and an over creation of renin, causing hypertension and atherosclerosis and damaging the blood vessels.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in ESRD, and heart function should be monitored regularly, excess fluid drained and preventative care taken.

The Integumentary System (Skin)

The kidneys inability to balance levels of blood minerals such as calcium and phosphorus affects and harms the body’s integumentary system.

The parathyroid glands release a hormone causing calcium to be drawn from the bones to the blood. The high levels of hormones cause the skin on the back, chest, head and limbs to itch. Phosphorous building up in the blood also tends to worsen itching.

Constant itching and scratching may also puncture the skin, causing sores and wounds and leaving the patient more susceptible to infection.

Intense itching can be relieved (to an extent) by removal of parathyroid glands, medication, ultraviolet light therapy and diet.

The Skeletal System

High levels of parathyroid hormone draw calcium from the bones into the blood stream. The mineral imbalance causes the bones to become weak, thin and malformed. Older patients and post-menopausal women are at greater risk, but 90% of dialysis patients are affected.

Calcium levels should be monitored and patient’s should be given instruction about bone health, stability and safety.


Amyloidosis, a condition in which the protein amyloid is deposited in the joints and tendons, is caused by kidney failure. Amyloidosis often results in pain, stiffness and fluid buildup in the joints.

The Circadian System

Kidney failure often disrupts the natural circadian system, causing havoc with sleep. People with renal failure often find themselves unable to fall or stay asleep at night. Others may suffer from sleep apnea, affecting their breathing and quality of sleep or from restless leg syndrome, causing restlessness and pain. Lack of sleep has been found to harm the immune system, leaving the sufferer more susceptible to illness, and may cause exhaustion, depression, weight gain, headaches and in general – impacts the daily quality of life. Treatment includes moderate exercise, adequate nutrition, sleep hygiene counseling and medication.

 The Nervous System

A combination of hormonal and mineral imbalance, with lack of sleep, constant pain and a prognosis of lifelong treatments, often cause symptoms of depression such as lethargy, sadness, fatigue, feelings of helplessness, loss of interest, anger, an inability to focus or concentrate and more.  Counseling, medications, support groups, meditation, nutrition and exercise have all been deemed as helpful in lessening and controlling the symptoms.

The Digestive System

High levels of urea in the blood may cause gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, poor appetite (including an inability to consume the necessary amounts of minerals and vitamins), bad taste in the mouth, peptic ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeds, diarrhea, vomiting and more. It is important to work with a nutritionist who specializes in renal failure and ESRD, to create a dietary regime that is optimal for the patient’s needs and health.

The Immune System

The immune system is affected by kidney damage. The excess toxins accumulating in the blood stream are harmful to all organs, and inhibit the marrow’s ability to produce cells. Elevated sugar levels, lack of sleep, depression, and damage to the skin are all contributors and affect the body’s ability to prevent and fight disease.

Kidney failure has a multi-system effect, hurting and harming the body on many different levels. It is crucial to start renal replacement therapy before irreversible damage sets in. Therapies available include hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplants.

Read more about the renal replacement therapies options and risk management on Laminate Medical Website.

Share Article