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!

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


  • Have you ever seen a backed-up drain?

The water backs up and starts flooding into the street, causing the creation of large puddles.

In the excretory system lesson, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, you learned that the kidneys filter the blood for the body. They complete this filtration by relying on specialized cells found in the kidney-bean-shaped organ.

human kidney cross-section

By filtering the blood, kidneys help regulate your blood pressure and the chemical balance in your blood.

  • What do you think happens when your kidneys stop functioning?

Your blood can become toxic, actually causing harm to your body.

Kidney failure is often the last stage of kidney disease, with many causes. Kidneys can be damaged due to diabetes and high blood pressure because they are forced to work overtime.

doctor measuring the blood pressure of a patient

Heart attacks and sudden blood loss could cause acute kidney failure, where the organ suddenly stops working. Sometimes, the kidney can regain function after these events with treatment. Other times, the damage may be permanent and progressive, worsening 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 has kidney failure, they can receive a kidney transplant or dialysis. Dialysis filters the blood for a patient instead of relying on the kidneys.

Kidneys filter your blood to maintain a balance of nutrients, and they use unique structures called nephrons to filter blood constantly throughout the day. When the kidneys stop functioning, a person can develop kidney disease, and if untreated, a person can transition into kidney failure with minimal treatment options.

Move to the Got It? section to learn about dialysis treatment.

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