Children's Hospital Colorado

Kidney Failure in Children

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What is pediatric kidney failure?

Kidney failure is a decrease in the function of the kidneys — two bean-shaped organs that remove waste and water from the blood to make urine (pee). They are part of the urinary tract. The urinary tract also includes the bladder (which holds urine), ureters (the tubes that carry urine from each kidney to the bladder) and urethra (where urine comes out). Kidney failure is also called renal failure.

There are two types of kidney failure. The first is acute kidney failure, or AKI for acute kidney injury. This is a sudden and temporary problem in kidneys that are otherwise healthy. In AKI, the kidneys often recover at least to some extent or even heal.

The second type of kidney failure is chronic kidney failure, which is called chronic kidney disease (CKD). This is when children or adults have or develop a kidney condition that doesn't go away. These conditions can range from mild to very serious. There are treatments available for every stage of CKD.

What causes kidney failure in children?

Acute kidney injury (AKI) in children can be caused by dehydration, by certain medicines or health conditions, and by other things. There are three categories of AKI:

  • Prerenal AKI occurs in the circulatory system, before the blood reaches the kidneys. It is usually caused by dehydration, blood loss or heart trouble that deprives the kidneys of getting enough oxygen.
  • Intrinsic AKI is a problem within the kidneys. It is usually caused by certain medicines, injuries or health conditions that damage the kidneys.
  • Postrenal AKI is a problem in the urinary tract below the kidneys. It happens when a blockage in the lower urinary tract causes urine to back up, generating backpressure on the kidneys that results in impaired kidney function.

Chronic kidney failure (also known as chronic kidney disease, or CKD) in children is most often caused by a problem in the development of the kidneys or urinary tract. It can also result from damage to the kidneys.

Who gets pediatric kidney failure?

Kidney failure can happen to anyone, including children and teens of all ages and ethnicities. It is not genetic, though some genetic conditions can cause it.

Because kidney failure is rare, there are few pediatric nephrologists — doctors who specialize in kidney failure in children and teens. At Children's Hospital Colorado, our team of pediatric nephrologists is nationally recognized for our care by U.S. News & World Report and 5280 magazine's Top Docs. We are also at the forefront of research and teaching to improve kidney failure outcomes. Our specially-trained and experienced team is here for your family.

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