Kidney, Reproductive and Urinary Conditions

Kidney Failure

What Is Kidney Failure?

Kidney failure, also called end-stage renal disease (ESRD), is when the kidneys no longer remove wastes from the blood or control salts in the body.

Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys can't function at a level that supports life. It usually happens when kidney function is less than 10% of normal levels for a child's age and weight.

At 10% function, the kidneys develop severe problems. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, fluid and waste products build up in the body. Kidney failure can be fatal if not treated correctly.

Kidney failure can either be ongoing (chronic) or sudden (acute). Acute kidney failure may be caused by an injury or poisoning. Chronic disease usually develops slowly.

Kidney Failure in Children

Kidney failure in children is caused by several different conditions or diseases. The causes include:

  • Kidney and bladder defects that a child is born with (congenital)
  • Hereditary diseases such as congenital nephrotic syndrome, polycystic kidney disease and cystinosis
  • Reflux and infections
  • Glomerulonephritis, which attacks the structures in the kidneys that filter blood
  • Nephrosis, which occurs when large amounts of protein leak into the urine, leaving low levels in the blood.
  • Poisoning
  • Allergic reaction to a drug
  • Tumors

Kidney Failure at Seattle Children's

Seattle Children's consistently ranks among the top five national kidney transplant centers for children, both in the number of transplants we perform and in our patients' survival rates. We have been treating kidney failure in children since 1984.

We are committed to excellent results. We are always improving our dialysis management, transplantation surgery techniques and medication therapy strategies to provide the most current treatments and the very best care for your child.

Our team is led by Dr. Patrick Healey, division chief of Transplantation, and Dr. Ruth McDonald, medical director of Solid Organ Transplant. Our kidney (nephrology) specialists are leading experts in kidney disease in children. They publish findings in medical journals around the world. Our transplant specialists lead and participate in regional and national organizations and research programs focused on kidney disease in children.

We continue to advance the practice and understanding of transplants through our research programs. Our top research priority is finding ways to make children who have transplants less dependent on anti-rejection drugs.

We are also committed to recruiting and retaining the best transplant specialists. As a teaching hospital, we train tomorrow's physicians and researchers in children's kidney disorders. Our pediatric nephrology fellowship program - one of a handful in the United States - attracts the best and brightest young doctors from around the world.