Kidney Disease, Kidney Failure and Palliative Care

Kidney disease includes conditions that damage your kidneys and decrease their ability to keep you healthy. If kidney disease gets worse, wastes can build to high levels in your blood and make you feel sick. You may develop complications like high blood pressure, anemia (low blood count), weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage.

Also, kidney disease increases your risk of having heart and blood vessel disease. These problems may happen slowly over a long period of time. Chronic kidney disease may be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure and other disorders. Early detection and treatment can often keep chronic kidney disease from getting worse. When kidney disease progresses, it may eventually lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life.

Kidney Disease, Kidney Failure Symptoms and Treatment— How Palliative Care Can Help

Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people facing serious illness like kidney disease. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family. You can have palliative care at any age and at any stage of your illness. You can also have it together with curative treatment.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work in partnership with your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in your illness and can be given along with treatment meant to cure.

The burdens of kidney disease and kidney failure can be profound. In addition to the physical and emotional issues, you and your family also have to make difficult decisions regarding your care.

Palliative care specialists partner with you, your family, your kidney doctor (nephrologist) and other health professionals to provide comprehensive medical care. Focusing on pain and symptom management, communication, coordination and general support, palliative care teams can assist at any point in your disease.

Managing symptoms is part of palliative care. Working closely with your kidney doctor, the palliative care team will help manage your symptoms. These may be related to blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety or other conditions. The team will also help you make critical decisions about your options, including the one treatment offered to nearly every patient with advancing kidney disease: dialysis.

The team will guide you in sorting out your personal values, your attitudes regarding treatment and your family’s collective goals. They will help you understand and decide what dialysis might add to your quality of life. And, they will help you balance that against any drawbacks.

If you are already being treated with dialysis and your health is declining, palliative care specialists are there to help you determine when treatment becomes more of a burden than a benefit. They can assist your transition to managing your disease without it.

Patients eligible for a kidney transplant often turn to palliative care before, during and after their surgery. As with dialysis, getting a transplant has its own risks and rewards, and needs to be examined carefully before choosing it as a treatment option.

Whatever your treatment choice, the palliative care team will work side-by-side with your nephrologist and/or transplant team to support you. The team will provide medications that relieve symptoms. They’ll use therapies, from massage to talk therapy to relaxation techniques, that will ease emotional and spiritual stress. They will help you and your family members better understand your condition and treatments and better communicate among yourselves and with others.

Above all, your palliative caregivers will do everything in their power to provide you with detailed attention and sensitivity to your personal needs and values.

How to Get Palliative Care

Finding a palliative care team in your area is easy. Just go to for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.

To find information on awareness, prevention and treatment of Kidney Disease, visit The National Kidney Foundation and the American Association of Kidney Patients.