Kidney Failure

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12583

You can imagine what it's like when a sewer gets clogged and backs up. What happens when your internal waste-removal system stops working? Learn the signs of — and steps to prevent — kidney failure!


Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What happens when the drain becomes clogged or unable to function? What if this happens in your body? Bleh!

Have you ever seen a backed-up drain?

The water backs up and starts flooding into the street, causing the creation of large puddles. Remember that the kidneys filter the blood for the body, as you learned in the excretory system lesson found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar. They complete this filtration by relying on specialized cells found in the kidney-bean-shaped organ.

By filtering the blood, kidneys help regulate your blood pressure and the chemical balance in your blood. So, what do you think happens when your kidneys stop functioning? Your blood can become toxic, actually causing harm to your body.

Most of the time, kidney failure is the last stage in kidney disease, which has many causes. Kidneys can be damaged as a result of diabetes and high blood pressure, because they are being forced to work overtime.

Heart attacks and a sudden loss of blood could cause acute kidney failure, where the organ suddenly stops working. Sometimes, the kidney is able to regain function after these events with treatment. Other times, the damage may be permanent and progressive, becoming worse with time.

Individuals with kidney disease or failure experience symptoms like extreme fatigue, weakness in the body, shortness of breath, and confusion. Since the kidneys regulate chemicals, a buildup of potassium could also cause abnormal heart rhythms and heart problems.

Kidney disease and failure are diagnosed using blood tests that measure certain chemical levels in the blood. When these values are out of balance, the patient is advised on treatment options.

Once an individual is in kidney failure, they can either receive a kidney transplant or dialysis. Dialysis filters the blood for a patient instead of relying on the kidneys.

Kidneys filter your blood in order to maintain a balance of nutrients. They use special structures, called "nephrons," to filter blood constantly throughout the day. When the kidneys stop functioning, a person can develop kidney disease. If untreated, a person can transition into kidney failure with very limited treatment options.

Discuss what you learned about kidney failure with a parent or teacher before moving on to the Got It? section to learn more about dialysis treatment.

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