What Is ESRD? - Definition, Causes & Symptoms

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian is a real estate investor, MBA, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

You are likely aware of the role your kidneys play in removing excess waste and water from the body, but what happens when they can no longer properly function? In this lesson, we will discuss end stage renal disease (ESRD) along with the common causes and symptoms of this condition.

ESRD Definition

Jack has just been diagnosed with ESRD by his doctor after a long battle with decreasing kidney function. End stage renal disease (ESRD) is the final stage of chronic kidney disease, and it occurs when the kidneys can no longer support the body's needs. At this stage, the failure of the kidneys cannot be repaired and the damage is irreversible. As a result, people with ESRD will not survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant. With dialysis, the patient's blood is removed, cleaned of wastes, and then recirculated into the patient's body. A transplant involves replacing the non-functioning kidney with a donor kidney. Let's take a look at some of the causes and symptoms associated with ESRD.


Jack has a history of diabetes, which, along with high blood pressure, is the most common cause of ESRD. Glomerulonephritis, the inflammation of the glomeruli or other blood vessels in the kidneys, is another leading cause of this condition. Any kidney disease, including polycystic kidney disease and other forms of inflammation of the kidneys besides glomerulonephritis, are also possible causes.

In some cases, ESRD can be caused by injuries to the kidneys. The kidney becomes so damaged that it can no longer properly function and be expected to heal or be repaired. Major blood loss can also be a cause. Occasionally, the kidney fails because of a physical abnormality or illness that was present at birth.


The symptoms of ESRD can vary greatly, though there are some common symptoms. The patient may have a noticeable abdominal mass, for example. Fatigue, vomiting, and weight loss can also occur.

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