How Long Can You Live With Only 50% Kidney Function

Kidney function is measured in percentages. Two normal kidneys account for 100% of kidney function. A single kidney provides about 50% of kidney function. One can lead a normal life with one kidney as long as the single kidney remains healthy. When kidney function drops to less than 50% of normal, the risk of health problems increases.Serious health problems are more frequent when kidney function drops to below 20%.Dialysis or transplant is necessary if kidney function falls to 15% or below.
Many people with kidney failure pass very little or no urine. If you pass little urine, without dialysis you have to be careful to avoid problems with salt and water overload. Restricting your fluid intake to less than one quart of liquid a day will keep you from having much trouble. Fluid overload results in swelling of the body (edema), particularly of the legs and the abdomen. The excess fluid can also cause congestion of the lungs and the heart, leading to rapid breathing and shortness of breath. Sitting upright helps relieve the breathing difficulties, at least for a while, as it shifts the fluid away from the chest and toward the legs; it may be impossible for persons in this condition to lie flat. Oxygen and morphine may also ease any feelings of struggling to breathe.
It is important to know that persons with some urine output have lived surprisingly long times after stopping dialysis - sometimes for months. People with no urine output are likely to die within a week or two. If this is your choice, or the choice of someone you love, try to be sure that you have a doctor and nurse who are familiar with the problems that might arise. Make sure that medications to treat those problems are readily at hand, especially if you are in a nursing home or at home. In such situations, having a knowledgeable and experienced hospice team involved is often worth exploring, as they will make it their business to get you any urgently needed medications. You probably will have a kidney specialist by this point, and that doctor may be a real help both in making decisions and in keeping you comfortable. So, on the whole, when you have to die, allowing kidney failure to take its course is not generally a hard way to go. In years past, before dialysis, kidney failure had a reputation of being a gentle death.

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