Acute Kidney Failure

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Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure, which is also termed as acute renal failure, is a condition which occurs when your kidneys suddenly stop working. It can happen in just a few hours or days.

This condition is not always permanent, and your kidneys can return to normal function, if you receive immediate treatment right away, and if you are not having other serious health problems.

The main purpose of the kidneys is to filter out the waste from your blood. They also need to remove any extra fluid that is in your blood, which becomes your urine. Kidneys also help in making red blood cells as well as regulating electrolytes.

When kidneys are damaged, they are unable to work well. This could happen due to another health condition, such as diabetes. When there is a decrease in kidney function which happens over a longer period of time, it is known as chronic kidney failure.


You may not show any symptoms of acute kidney failure, and it might be discovered by your doctor during a lab test for another reason.

However, if you do show symptoms, then they are going to depend on how severe your condition is. Some of them might include:

  • Urinating less than normal
  • Itching
  • Joint pain, swelling
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
  • Feeling very tired or drowsy
  • Throwing up or feeling like doing so
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle twitching
  • Stomach and back pain
  • Fever
  • Seizures or coma (in severe cases)
  • Rash
  • Nosebleed


Acute kidney failure occurs when you have a condition which can slow the flow of blood to your kidneys, or if you experience any direct damage to the kidneys. In some cases, your kidney’s urine drainage tubes, i.e. ureters, can get blocked, due to which wastes might be unable to leave the body through your urine.

Certain conditions can slow blood flow to the kidneys, which can cause kidney injury. These include:

  • Blood or fluid loss
  • Heart disease
  • Infection
  • Liver failure
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Heart attack
  • Use of medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Severe dehydration
  • Severe burns


There are also diseases and conditions, which can damage the kidneys which can lead to acute kidney failure. They include:

  • Blood clots in the veins and arteries in as well as around the kidneys
  • Glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of the tiny filters of the kidneys
  • Cholesterol deposits which can block blood flow in your kidneys
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition resulting from premature destruction of red blood cells
  • Viral infection, such as with the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, and dyes used during imaging tests
  • Lupus, an immune system disorder that leads to glomerulonephritis
  • Scleroderma, a group of rare diseases which can affect your skin and connective tissues
  • Toxins, like alcohol, heavy metals or even cocaine
  • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, which is a rare blood disorder
  • Muscle tissue breakdown or rhabdomyolysis, that leads to kidney damage caused by toxins from the destruction
  • Breakdown of tumor cells which can lead to the release of toxins, which can cause an injury in the kidney


Several diseases or conditions that can block the urine from passing out of the body may also cause acute kidney injury. They include:


If your signs and symptoms are suggesting that you might have acute kidney failure, then your doctor might recommend certain tests and procedures in order to verify the diagnosis. These can include the following:

Urine output measurements

Measuring how much you urinate in a period of 24 hours can help your doctor determine what the cause of your kidney failure is.

Blood tests

A sample of your blood can reveal rapidly rising levels of urea and creatinine, two substances which are used to measure kidney function.

Urine tests

An analysis of a sample of your urine can sometimes reveal abnormalities which can suggest kidney failure.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests such as ultrasound and computerized tomography can also help your doctor in seeing your kidneys.

Removing a sample of kidney tissue for testing

Biopsy Image
This method, known as a kidney biopsy, involves your doctor removing a small sample of kidney tissue for testing in the lab. To remove the sample, your doctor can insert a needle through your skin and into the kidney.


Your treatment is going to depend on what your cause of acute kidney failure is. The goal of the treatment is to always restore the normal function of the kidneys. It is also important to prevent fluids and wastes from building up, during the recovery of the kidneys. In most cases, the evaluation is made by a kidney specialist known as a nephrologist.


Your doctor is going to need to restrict your diet and the amount of liquids that you consume. This helps in reducing the buildup of toxins that your kidneys normally eliminate. In most cases, your doctor is going to recommend a diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein, salt, and potassium.


Your doctor might also prescribe certain antibiotics to treat or prevent any infections that can be caused at the same time. Calcium and insulin can help you in avoiding a dangerous increase in your blood potassium levels.


Dialysis may be required, though it is not always necessary. If it is required, it will likely be temporary. Dialysis involves diverting blood out of the body into a machine that helps to filter out the waste, after which the clean blood returns to the body. Dialysis may save your life if your potassium levels are dangerously high.


Certain complications which can arise from acute kidney failure include:

  • Chest Pain- If the lining covering your heart, i.e. pericardium becomes inflamed, you might experience chest pain.
  • Fluid Buildup- Acute kidney failure might lead to a buildup of fluid in the lungs, which can cause shortness of breath.
  • Muscle Weakness- Muscle weakness can be caused by your body’s fluid and electrolytes, and your body’s blood chemistry when they are all out of balance.
  • Permanent Kidney Damage- Generally, acute kidney failure can lead to permanent loss of kidney function or even end-stage renal disease.
  • Death- Acute kidney failure might also lead to loss of the function of your kidneys, and even death.


Though it is generally hard to predict or prevent, taking a few steps can reduce your risk of developing acute kidney failure.

If you have kidney disease or any other condition, which can increase the risk of acute kidney failures, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, then follow your doctor’s recommendations to manage your condition.

Make a healthy lifestyle a priority. Make sure that you are active, and eat a sensible and balanced diet. If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation.

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