Understanding Acute Renal Failure

Recent statistics show that in the US, there were about 5,181 deaths from acute recent failure, the most in any country.

What is acute renal failure?

Acute renal failure is a form of sudden kidney failure. Your kidney’s primary function is to remove waste products and help balance water, salt and other minerals (electrolytes) in the blood. If your kidneys suddenly stopped working, these waste products, fluids and electrolytes build up in the body and become toxic and lethal.

What causes acute renal failure?

Acute renal failure is mainly caused by the following:

Sudden, serious drop in blood flow to the kidney. Heavy blood loss can be caused by an injury, reducing blood flow to the kidneys. Blood flow reduction can also be caused by a an infection or sepsis. Dehydration can also be harmful to the kidneys.

Damage from medicines, poisons or infections. Not many people get kidney problems from taking medications. People who have serious, long-term, health problems are more likely to have kidney problems from medicines than people who don’t. Medicines that can be harmful to your kidneys are:

  • antibiotics (e.g. gentamicin, streptomycin)
  • pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • blood pressure medications such as ACE inhibitors
  • dyes used in some x-rays tests

A sudden blockage that prevents urine from flowing out of the kidneys. These include kidney stones, a tumor, an injury or an enlarged prostate gland.

Who are most likely to get acute renal failure?

People with the following conditions or are more likely to get acute renal failure:

  • old age
  • long-term health problems such as kidney or liver disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure or obesity.
  • serious illness. Heart or belly surgery or bone marrow transplant can make you more susceptible to getting kidney failure.

What are the symptoms of acute renal failure?

  • little or no urine when you urinate
  • swelling, particularly in the legs and feet
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • confusion, anxiety, restlessness and/or sleepiness
  • pain in the back, just below the rib cage (flank pain)

However, there are people who do not have signs and symptoms, so it is important to have regular check ups.

How is acute renal failure diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about symptoms you may have experienced, what medications you take and what tests you have had.

You will have blood and urine tests so your doctor can check if your kidneys are functioning properly. A chemistry screening shows your sodium (salt), potassium and calcium levels. You may also have an ultrasound to let the doctors see your kidneys.