How Long Does It Take to Die from Kidney Failure Without Dialysis?

Kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), occurs when the kidneys lose their ability to effectively filter toxins and excess fluid from the blood. Dialysis, a life-sustaining treatment, is often recommended for individuals with ESRD. However, the question arises: how long can someone survive without this intervention? This article explores the complexities surrounding kidney failure and its prognosis without dialysis.

Understanding Kidney Failure

The kidneys, bean-shaped organs located on each side of the spine, play a pivotal role in maintaining homeostasis. They:

  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Balance fluid levels.
  • Remove waste and toxins.
  • Produce hormones.

When these functions are compromised due to chronic or acute kidney disease, it can lead to kidney failure.

The Role of Dialysis

Dialysis acts as an artificial kidney, performing vital functions in the absence of kidney activity:

  1. Hemodialysis: This method uses a machine to filter toxins and excess fluid from the blood.
  2. Peritoneal Dialysis: A solution is used to draw toxins from the blood through the peritoneal lining in the abdomen.

Prognosis Without Dialysis

Choosing not to undergo dialysis is a personal and sometimes medical decision. Without it, toxins and excess fluids accumulate in the body, leading to:

  • Increased fatigue and weakness.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Loss of appetite and nausea.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Severe pain in some cases.

Survival varies among individuals and is influenced by:

  1. Overall Health: Those with other underlying health conditions may experience a quicker decline.
  2. Residual Kidney Function: Some kidneys might retain a minor filtering capacity, which can prolong life.
  3. Age: Younger individuals might survive longer due to overall better health and resilience.

On average, without dialysis, individuals with ESRD may survive anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, this can extend to several months or longer for some, especially those with partial kidney function or other mitigating factors.

Considering Palliative Care

For those who opt against dialysis, palliative care is a compassionate option. It focuses on:

  • Managing symptoms.
  • Providing emotional and psychological support.
  • Ensuring the patient’s comfort.


  1. Why might someone choose not to undergo dialysis?
    Reasons can vary, including age, other severe health conditions, perceived quality of life, and personal or cultural beliefs.
  2. Are there any alternatives to dialysis for treating kidney failure?
    A kidney transplant is an option, but not everyone is a suitable candidate. It also requires a donor match and involves its risks and medications.
  3. How do doctors determine the severity of kidney failure?
    Doctors use the Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) to gauge kidney function. The lower the GFR, the more advanced the kidney disease.
  4. Is death from kidney failure painful?
    Not necessarily. With appropriate palliative care, symptoms can be managed, and patients can experience a peaceful passing.
  5. Can diet or medications delay the need for dialysis?
    While they can’t reverse kidney failure, a kidney-friendly diet and certain medications might slow the progression of the disease.


Deciding against dialysis in the face of kidney failure is a profound choice. Understanding the implications and having a supportive medical team can aid in navigating this challenging phase. While the timeline varies, prioritizing comfort, dignity, and quality of life is paramount.