Once kidney failure is diagnosed you'll be referred to a team of renal specialists at the Oxford Kidney Unit in the Churchill Hospital : nephrologists (doctors who specialize in kidneys), renal nurses, dietitians and other medical personnel who will monitor you closely. Blood and urine tests will be done regularly to determine the function of your kidneys. Initially your kidney failure may be manageable just with medication and regular visits to your nephrologist. The number of medicines you are prescribed may be daunting but if it puts off having to start dialysis it is worth taking them as prescribed!
How long the early stage of kidney failure lasts depends on how much kidney function you have left when you are diagnosed, and how well you respond to medication and diet therapy. Your consultant may be able to predict how your kidneys are responding to treatment and how long they will continue functioning at acceptable levels.
Chronic kidney failure often progresses from early stage to end-stage renal failure (ESRF) or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). There is currently no cure for this and the damage done to the kidneys is irreversible.
Once a patient is at ESRF/ESRD there are several methods of kidney function replacement therapy available:
Haemodialysis - the blood is cleaned outside the body via a machine usually 3 times a week.
Peritoneal dialysis - the blood is cleaned inside the body.
Kidney transplant - either from a living donor or a cadaveric donation.
Not everyone will have this choice. Your consultant will go through your options with you, explaining the different treatments and how your life will be affected by each. It is also possible to change treatments if it turns out that your initial treatment isn't suitable - this may be due to medical conditions or personal considerations.