Acute renal failure is the sudden loss of kidney function. Kidneys clean waste from the blood and manage the balance of fluid in the body. The condition can be reversed with timely medical intervention, such as dialysis, which is a process that cleans the blood.
There are many possible causes of sudden kidney failure because there are three anatomical sites for problems to occur in the renal system: before the blood enters the kidneys, within the kidney , and after the urine is processed by the kidney and enters the ureters.
Sudden kidney failure can result from problems with blood flow to the kidney, which can be caused by blood loss or dehydration. It can also result from conditions such as infections that interfere with the work of the kidney.
The most common cause of sudden kidney failure occurs inside the kidney. Acute tubular necrosis is the death of the cells inside the kidney that act as the blood's filter. These cells die when they are deprived of oxygen. This can be due to surgical complications or the side effects of certain medicines. Physical problems, such as swollen prostate glands or kidney stones can also cause sudden kidney failure.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
The following factors increase your chance of developing acute renal failure. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:
Many people do not have any symptoms, but symptoms can include the following:
You may be referred to a kidney specialist (nephrologist) for diagnosis and treatment. Your doctors will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will ask about any medications you are taking. You will have blood and/or urine tests to look for signs of kidney failure, including abnormal levels of electrolytes, blood urea, nitrogen (BUN), creatinine (an acid that promotes muscle growth), and red blood cells.
The amount of urine produced over several hours can also be considered for diagnosis, since kidney failure affects urine production. Urine will also be examined for color and any unusual content that might indicate infection. The nephrologist may also require a kidney ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or even an examination of the bladder for stones.
The treatment for acute renal failure will depend on the exact cause and severity of the event. Your doctor may recommend any of the following:
To help reduce your chance of acute kidney failure, take the following steps:
National Kidney Disease Education Program
National Kidney Foundation
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
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Last reviewed October 2012 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 10/31/2012