In most cases, kidney failure is caused by other health problems that have done permanent damage (harm) to your kidneys little by little, over time.

When your kidneys are damaged, they may not work as well as they should. If the damage to your kidneys continues to get worse and your kidneys are less and less able to do their job, you have chronic kidney disease. Kidney failure is the last (most severe) stage of chronic kidney disease. This is why kidney failure is also called end-stage renal disease, or ESRD for short.

Diabetes is the most common cause of ESRD. High blood pressure is the second most common cause of ESRD. Other problems that can cause kidney failure include:

Sometimes the kidneys can stop working very suddenly (within two days). This type of kidney failure is called acute kidney injury or acute renal failure. Common causes of acute renal failure include:

  • Heart attack
  • Illegal drug use and drug abuse
  • Not enough blood flowing to the kidneys
  • Urinary tract problems

This type of kidney failure is not always permanent. Your kidneys may go back to normal or almost normal with treatment and if you do not have other serious health problems.

Having one of the health problems that can lead to kidney failure does not mean that you will definitely have kidney failure. Living a healthy lifestyle and working with your doctor to control these health problems can help your kidneys work for as long as possible.