Kidney Failure Prognosis and Life Expectancy

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Renal dialysis male patient has care review with doctor and nurse

Kidney failure, sometimes called end stage renal failure or stage 5 kidney disease, is the most serious form of chronic kidney disease. It means that more than 80% of your kidney function is gone and you need treatment to survive. Complications include fluid retention, anemia, and bone or heart disease. Dialysis, a treatment that cleans your blood of dangerous waste products, can address kidney failure and extend life expectancy. If you are a candidate for a kidney transplant and have a donor match, a successful transplant can offer you a normal life span.

Without dialysis or a transplant, life expectancy for people with kidney failure usually ranges from days to weeks. There is no cure for kidney failure, but treatment can extend your life by years.

What to Expect During Kidney Dialysis

Dialysis is a method of removing the waste from your bloodstream by filtering your blood artificially. Dialysis can extend your life expectancy by up to 10 years or more. There are two main types of dialysis:

  • Hemodialysis uses a machine and a filter called an artificial kidney, or dialyzer, to clean your blood and remove toxic products. The dialyzer has two sections, one for your blood and one for a washing fluid called dialysate. The dialysis machine removes blood through a tube in your arm, mixes it with the washing fluid and returns it to your body. You will typically have dialysis three times a week for four hours each session.
  • Peritoneal dialysis uses your abdominal lining as the filter. There are two approaches to peritoneal dialysis. In one, called CAPD, you empty a bag of dialysate cleansing fluid into your abdomen and then drain it out. You usually do the process three to five times a day. It takes about half an hour each time. The other technique, called APD, uses a machine to deliver and drain the cleansing fluid into your abdomen, usually while you sleep.

Dialysis takes some getting used to and you may feel tired initially, but it can make you feel better able to go about your normal routine. Dialysis is not as efficient at cleaning toxins as healthy kidneys and can cause other health problems, such as low blood pressure, but it can mean a much longer life with kidney failure.

Kidney Failure and Kidney Transplants

When you get a kidney transplant, a healthy kidney is placed inside your body to do the work your own kidneys can no longer do. Many kidney transplants are successful, and make people feel much better and often able to go back to their normal lives. After a transplant, you have to take medicine for your lifetime to keep you from rejecting the kidney. A number of people will need more than one transplant during their lives. A living donor kidney lasts anywhere from 12 to 20 years, and a deceased donor kidney lasts from 8 to 12 years.

People with kidney transplants live an average of 10 to 15 years longer than those on dialysis. Younger adults benefit the most from a kidney transplant, but people as old as 75 live, on average, four more years than those on dialysis. Not everyone is a candidate for a transplant, but they can mean getting back to a normal, active life.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 9
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Dialysis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  2. Hemodialysis. National Kidney Foundation.
  3. Peritoneal dialysis. National Kidney Foundation.
  4. The Benefits of Kidney Transplant versus Dialysis. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
  5. What is Kidney Failure? National Kidney Foundation.