is the sudden loss of kidney function. Kidneys clean waste from the blood and manage the balance of fluid in the body.
Anatomy of the Kidney
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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 kidneys, and after the urine is processed by the kidneys and enters the ureters.
Sudden kidney failure can result from problems with blood flow to the kidney, which can be caused by
acute renal artery obstruction,
blood loss, or dehydration. It can also result from conditions such as
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, inflammatory processes, blood clots, or the side effects of certain medications. Physical problems, such as swollen prostate glands or
can also cause sudden kidney failure.
Factors that may increase your chance of acute renal failure include:
Having a chronic disease, such as
diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, or
high blood pressureIncreased age
DehydrationBleeding, especially from the gastrointestinal tractCertain medications and illegal drugsComplications following surgeries or care in an intensive care unit (ICU)Overuse of certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)Use of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
Obstructive causes such as
benign prostatic hypertrophy
and bladder tumor
Most people do not have symptoms. In those that have them acute renal failure may cause: Less frequent urinationSwelling throughout the bodyDark-colored urineFatigueConfusionNausea or vomitingMuscle weakness or muscle crampsNo appetiteMetallic taste
In severe cases,
be referred to a kidney specialist (nephrologist) for diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, including any medications you are taking. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include: Blood testsUrine tests
Imaging tests evaluate the kidney and surrounding structures. These may include: Kidney ultrasoundCT scanMRI scan
Treatment for acute renal failure will depend on the exact cause and severity. Your doctor may advise: Dialysis—a machine used to filter waste from the bloodA catheter or stent to treat obstructionIV fluids to maintain adequate blood volumeStopping or changing medications that caused the loss of functionTreating related problems, such as kidney stones or infectionsA supervised diet that limits protein intakeKidney transplant
To help reduce your chance of acute kidney failure: Get a physical every year that includes a urine test to monitor your kidney health.Drink water and other fluids to stay hydrated.Don't take drugs or other substances that can damage your kidneys. Ask about the side effects of any medications you are taking.People at risk for chronic kidney disease should get more frequent check-ups at their doctor's office.
Acute renal failure. DynaMed website. Available at:
Updated July 4, 2013. Accessed July 12, 2013.
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Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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