End-Stage Renal Disease

By Michel Liu | Last Updated: April 04, 2021

Image by: Brett Dashevsky

What is End-Stage Renal Disease?  

Losing kidney function is a serious health condition that requires expensive medical treatment. 


Key Takeaways

  • Kidneys are vital organs that require dialysis or a transplant if they fail.

  • People suffering from permanent kidney failure are eligible for Medicare to help cover high medical costs.


What are Kidneys?

Kidneys “clean” blood in the body, filtering out waste and extra water to make urine. Factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, tobacco use and more can damage this filtration system. 

How do Kidneys Lose Function? 

Kidney failure can occur gradually in stages of chronic kidney disease, known as "CKD." The stages are defined by decreasing glomerular filtration rate, a measure of how effectively kidneys filter blood. The final stage, CKD 5, is another term for ESRD and means that the body can’t function with its kidneys as is. An ESRD diagnosis is when many people turn to dialysis or kidney transplantation. 

How Do We Treat Kidney Failure?


Since kidney failure is irreversible, a kidney transplant is the ideal medical treatment for  ESRD. A kidney can come from a deceased donor or a live donor (since humans only need one kidney to function). Due to a critical shortage of available organs, people with ESRD typically join a transplant waitlist. After a transplant, recipients must indefinitely take drugs that suppress their immune systemotherwise, the body may reject the transplant.


Dialyzing involves getting “hooked up” to a machine that filters blood outside the body. Though dialysis is a temporary alternative to receiving a transplant, many people on dialysis pass away before receiving a new kidney. 

Medicare’s Got the Bill 

Since 1972, Medicare has covered ESRD, dialysis, and transplant costs. In the U.S., dialysis is provided primarily by for-profit firms.


Outside the Huddle


Reviewed and Fact checked by Jared Dashevsky, M.Eng. | Edited by Nidhi Mahagaokar, MPH