Renal failure, also known as kidney disease, is a serious illness that affects the kidneys’ ability to function properly. This causes a buildup of waste in the body, which can, in turn, result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and require constant care. Often called pediatric renal failure when it occurs in children, this disease requires specialized treatment and support.
Here’s what you need to know about how to care for a loved one with renal failure and what to expect from their treatment plans.
What is Renal Failure?
Pediatric renal failure describes temporary or permanent damage to the kidneys that causes the kidneys to stop functioning normally. Acute renal failure occurs abruptly and may be reversible, while chronic renal failure happens slowly, typically over the course of at least three months. This type of kidney disease leads to permanent renal failure and often necessitates a kidney transplant for survival.
The causes, symptoms, treatments and outcomes of each type of kidney disease differ, and your child’s doctor will have the most specific information about what to expect after diagnosis. The following guide outlines a general overview of what to expect from each type of kidney disease.
Causes of Pediatric Renal Failure
Because acute and chronic renal failure occur over different time spans, their causes differ as well. Acute renal failure typically happens due to decreased blood flow or oxygen to the kidneys for a short period of time, such as blood loss, surgery or shock. It can also be caused by an obstruction along the urinary tract or within small structures inside the kidney, as the result of inflamed glomeruli – which allow the kidneys or filter urine – or through the ingestion of medications that poison the kidneys.
Chronic renal failure, meanwhile, generally happens after a prolonged urinary tract obstruction or as the result of various disorders. These include Alport syndrome, an inherited disorder that causes deafness, progressive kidney damage and nephrotic syndrome, which has various causes of its own but often causes protein in the urine and high cholesterol. Cystinosis is another inherited disorder that causes the accumulation of cystine in the kidneys. Polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder, causes cysts within the kidneys.
Symptoms of Renal Failure
Each child may experience different symptoms, though some are common for acute and chronic versions of the disease. Those with acute renal failure typically experience hemorrhages, fever, rash, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, changes in urine output, infection, pale skin, tissue swelling, eye inflammation and abdominal masses. They may also have a history of trauma as a result of taking certain medications and/or exposure to heavy metals or toxic solvents.
Chronic kidney failure, meanwhile, causes a number of other symptoms. These can consist of poor appetite, vomiting, bone pain, headaches, stunted growth, malaise, changes in urine output and incontinence, pale skin, repeated urinary tract infections, bad breath, hearing issues, swelling, irritability and changes in mental alertness. Because these symptoms are often found in other illnesses as well, consult your child’s doctor for a formal diagnosis to rule out other conditions that may be affecting your child.
Your child’s treatment will depend on a number of factors, such as their age, health, medical history and preferences; their tolerance for specific medications and therapies; and the extent of their disease. Acute renal failure may necessitate hospitalization, IV fluids, diuretic therapy to increase urine output, medication and sometimes dialysis.
Treatment for acute renal failure will depend on the stage of the disease but typically includes medications, diuretic therapy, dialysis and/or kidney transplantation. Individuals battling acute or chronic renal failure may benefit from changes to their diet, which are designed to limit the impact food has on the kidneys and give them a break from processing so much waste.
Securing Supportive Care
If you are struggling with your child’s diagnosis or with providing the right care for them, consider contacting KidsCare of the Rockies. Providing end-of-life care to children with end-stage renal disease presents numerous challenges to families and healthcare providers alike. KidsCare helps ease this strain by connecting families with an interdisciplinary palliative care team dedicated to improving your child’s quality of life. This team will facilitate communication between children, families and doctors while providing top notch pain management, physical therapy and emotional and spiritual counseling services to children.
Families will also have access to counseling and guidance of medical professionals, helping them continue to be there for their loved ones and take care of their own needs as well. Speak with KidsCare for more information about how the organization’s pediatric palliative care and hospice care services can benefit you and your family as you go through this stressful stage of life with your child.