Caring for Yourself When You Have Kidney Failure

Kidney failure and its treatment will mean changes in your daily life. Whatever changes you need to make, your health care team can help you with them.

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Your daily life

You may wonder how your treatment will fit into the rest of your life. But, with some changes, you can live a full life with kidney failure. If you work, talk to your employer about any changes you need to make in your duties or schedule. You may find that your energy levels go up and down and that you notice new physical problems. If you aren’t able to do your daily activities as before, your doctor may suggest treatments or send you to physical therapy. 

Food, drink, and medications

  • No matter which treatment you choose, you’ll have some limits on what you eat and drink. A dietitian will help you learn these. Specifically, you may need to avoid foods that are high in salt, potassium, or phosphorus. 

  • Treatment means taking medications. Some of these you need to take one or more times a day. Others are given to you during treatment or doctor visits. Have a list of the medications you take. Show it to any health care provider you visit. Also check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication, including aspirin, that is not on the list. Many medications are eliminated or processed by kidneys. Your dosage may have to be adjusted by your doctor or pharmacist. Other medications, such as the IV dye injected during some body scans, may harm your kidneys, and you may not be allowed to take them. 

Making healthy choices

You can make choices about your lifestyle that will help your treatment work better. Exercise may reduce your treatment’s side effects, and can help you control your weight and blood pressure. Ask your health care team which types of exercise are good for you. If you smoke, it’s important that you quit. Smoking constricts blood vessels and causes infections, which are both dangerous to kidney failure patients. Talk to your health care team about quitting. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, it’s important to control your sugar levels and blood pressure as directed by your health care provider. Keep your weight in a normal range for your body, and keep your cholesterol levels controlled, as well. 

Looking after your health

With the right treatment, you should begin to feel better. If you follow all the guidelines you are given and still don’t feel well, tell your doctor. Some changes may need to be made in your treatment. You will need regular checkups with your doctor.

Things to know

Circle the statements below that are true for you. For each statement you don’t circle, ask a health care provider to help you learn what you need to know:

  • I have a list of all the medications that I take. 

  • I know whom to talk to when I need extra help or support. 

  • I know which foods I should eat. I also know how much I should eat.

  • I have talked to a health care provider about exercise.

  • I have names and numbers for all my health care providers.

  • I know what my insurance covers and what it doesn’t.


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