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Most people who develop acute kidney failure are already in the hospital. Acute kidney failure is the sudden loss of your kidneys’ ability to eliminate excess salts, fluids, and waste materials from the blood. When kidneys lose their filtering ability, body fluids can rise to dangerous levels. The condition will also cause electrolytes and waste material to accumulate in your body.
Acute kidney failure, also called acute kidney injury, is common in patients who are already in the hospital. It may develop rapidly over a few hours. Or it may develop more slowly over a few days. People who are critically ill and need intensive care are at the highest risk of developing acute kidney failure.
Acute kidney failure can be fatal and requires intensive treatment. However, it may be reversible. If you are in good health otherwise, recovery is possible.
Acute kidney failure can occur for many reasons. Among the reasons are:
Low blood pressure can reduce blood flow and cause damage to your kidneys. These health problems can decrease blood flow to your kidneys:
Certain disorders can cause clotting within your kidney’s blood vessels:
Some infections can directly injure your kidneys, such as:
Pregnancy can cause complications that harm the kidneys:
Chances of acquiring acute renal failure are greater if you are elderly or have the following long-term health problems:
If you are ill or are being treated in a hospital intensive care unit, you are at an extremely high risk for acute kidney failure. Being the recipient of heart surgery, abdominal surgery, or a bone marrow transplant can also increase your risk .
If you have acute kidney failure you may have generalized swelling. The swelling is caused by fluid retention.
Using a stethoscope, your physician may hear crackling in the lungs. These sounds can signal fluid retention.
Results of laboratory tests may also show sudden changes. Some of these tests include:
An ultrasound is the preferred method for diagnosing acute kidney failure. However, abdominal X-ray, abdominal CT scan, and abdominal MRI can determine if there is a blockage in your urinary tract.
Certain blood tests may also reveal underlying causes of acute kidney failure..
Treatment will depend on the cause of your acute kidney failure. The goal is to restore normal kidney function. Preventing fluids and wastes from building up in your body while your kidneys recover is important.
Your doctor will restrict your diet and the amount of liquids you eat and drink. The goal is to reduce the buildup of toxins that are normally eliminated by the kidneys. A diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein, salt, and potassium is usually recommended.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat or prevent any infections that occur at the same time. Diuretics may be used to help your kidneys eliminate fluid. Calcium and insulin can be given to help avoid dangerous increases in your blood potassium levels.
Dialysis might be needed, but is not always necessary. Dialysis involves diverting blood out of your body into a machine that filters out waste. The clean blood is then returned to your body. If potassium levels are dangerously high, dialysis can save your life. Dialysis is used if there are changes in your mental status, or if you stop urinating. You may also need dialysis if you develop pericarditis, inflammation of the heart. Dialysis can help eliminate nitrogen waste products from your body.
Acute kidney failure can be a life-threatening illness. Intensive treatment may be required. But if you are in good health otherwise, chances of recovery are good.
Chronic renal failure or end-stage renal disease can develop. Death is more common if kidney failure is caused by severe infection, trauma, or surgery. Lung disease, recent stroke, advanced age, blood loss, and progressive kidney failure also increase your risk of death.
Some of the complications of acute kidney failure may be:
Preventing and treating illnesses that can lead to acute kidney failure is the best method for avoiding the disease.
Written by: Bree Normandin and Winnie Yu
Published on Aug 16, 2012
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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