Acute Tubular Necrosis


Acute tubular necrosis (ATN) is injury to the tiny tube-shaped cells in the kidneys. ATN can lead to more serious kidney problems.

Anatomy of the Kidney

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

ATN has many causes:

  • Lack of oxygen to the kidneys because of:
    • Blood clots
    • Problems from surgery
    • Blood loss
    • Excessive fluid loss—dehydration
    • Health conditions
  • Toxins such as medicines, dyes used in image testing, or anesthesia

Risk Factors    TOP

Your chances for ATN go up as you get older. Risk is also higher with:

  • Having problems that lower blood flow:
    • Kidney disease
    • Blood pressure that’s too high or low
    • Heart, liver, or lung diseases
    • Diabetes
    • Cancer
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Surgery
  • Working with or being around toxins

Symptoms    TOP

ATN may cause:

  • Lower or higher amounts of urine than normal
  • Swelling
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of hunger
  • Confusion

Diagnosis    TOP

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may also have:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests to look for certain proteins and to count blood cells
  • Urine tests to look for certain proteins and other markers
  • Ultrasound
  • Scintigraphy

Treatment    TOP

Care depends on what is causing problems. For example, if medicine you take is harming your kidneys, your doctor will make changes. Other care may involve:

  • Support to manage fluids, blood flow, oxygen, or nutrition
  • Medicines to treat infections
  • Dialysis—a machine works for your kidneys by filtering your blood

Prevention    TOP

To lower your chances of ATN, don’t take medicines you know cause kidney problems. Your doctor will find other medicines to help you.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Kidney Foundation


The Kidney Foundation of Canada


Acute tubular necrosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 26, 2018. Accessed June 1, 2018.
Acute tubular necrosis (ATN). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated July 2017. Accessed June 1, 2018.
Choudhury D, Ahmed Z. Drug-associated renal dysfunction and injury. Nat Clin Pract Nephrol. 2006;2(2):80-91
Esson ML, Schrier RW. Diagnosis and treatment of acute tubular necrosis. Ann Intern Med. 2002;137(9):744-52.
Gill N, Nally JV Jr, Fatica RA. Renal failure secondary to acute tubular necrosis: Epidemiology, diagnosis, and management. Chest. 2005;128(4):2847-2863.
Musso CG, Liakopoulos V, Ioannidis I, Eleftheriadis T, Stefanidis I. Acute renal failure in the elderly: Particular characteristics. Int Urol Nephrol. 2006;38(3-4):787-793.
Tepel M, van der Giet M, Schwarzfeld C, Laufer U, Liermann D, Zidek W. Prevention of radiographic-contrast reductions in renal function by acetylcysteine. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(3):1448-1457.
Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 6/1/2018

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.