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Acute kidney failure


Disease: Acute kidney failure Acute kidney failure
Category: Kidney diseases

Disease Definition:

When a kidney suddenly loses the ability of performing its main function, filtering and eliminating excess fluid and electrolytes as well as waste material from the blood, acute kidney failure occurs. In this case, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and waste compile in the body.


This failure is most common in people who are already hospitalized, particularly people who need intensive care. This condition usually occurs when blood flow to the kidneys is disrupted, after a severe injury or after a complicated surgery.


Generally, acute kidney failure demands intensive treatment because it can be serious. However, this condition could be reversible. A person could recover normal kidney function in case he/she is otherwise in good health.

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Symptoms, Causes


These are some of the possible signs and symptoms of acute kidney failure:


  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Chest pain related to pericarditis, which is the inflammation of the sac-like membrane that envelops the heart.
  • Shortness of breath
  • In some severe cases, seizures or coma
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased urine output, despite the fact that the output of urine sometimes remains normal.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles or feet due to fluid retention.


At first, the signs and symptoms may go unnoticed or thought to be related to some other underlying disease because acute kidney failure in most cases is a complication of some other serious disorder.


There are many possible causes for acute kidney failure and they are grouped based on their affect on which part of the kidney.
Being the key organs in the complex system that removes waste material and excess fluid from the blood, all the blood flows through the kidneys.


Blood arrives to the kidneys via the renal arteries, which branch off the abdominal aorta (the main artery) and carry oxygenated blood away from the heart. On entering the kidneys, blood is diffused through an intricate network of filtering structures.
These structures consist of approximately one million nephrons, each of which contains a tuft of capillary blood vessels and tiny lobules leading to larger collecting tubes.
The glomeruli, which are the capillary tufts, filter fluid from the blood and extract both waste products and substancess the body always needs including salts, amino acids, sugar and calcium.
The filtered fluid then enters the tubules, where these vital materials are reabsorbed by the bloodstream.



A person will be more likely to recover their kidney function if the cause of the acute kidney failure resolves soon.


Permanent loss of kidney function or end-stage renal disease could be caused sometimes by acute kidney failure.
In order to survive, people with end-stage renal disease require either a kidney transplant, or a permanent dialysis, which is a mechanical filtration system that removes toxins and waste from the body.


Sometimes, acute kidney failure could be fatal. In cases of trauma, severe and chronic medical problems, or when the kidneys fail after surgery, death rates are higher.


Listed below are some of the factors that could adversely affect the outcome of acute kidney failure:


  • Advanced age
  • Infection
  • Stroke, heart attack or a postoperative stroke
  • Pre-existing malnutrition
  • Multiple blood transfusions
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding


Treating the illness or injury that originally damaged the kidneys is the first goal of treatment. When that condition is under control, the doctor will focus on precluding the accumulation of excess fluids and wastes in the blood while the kidneys recover. Limiting fluid intake and following a low-protein, low-potassium, high-carbohydrate diet is the best way of accomplishing this.


In order to prevent high levels of potassium from accumulating in the blood, the patient will be prescribed calcium, sodium polystyrene sulfonate or glucose. Arrhythmias, which are dangerous irregular heartbeats, could be caused by too much potassium in the blood.



Usually, while the kidneys heal, the patient will also need to have temporary dialysis (hemodialysis). This procedure is performed to help in removing toxins and excess fluids from the body.
Although dialysis is imperfect, however, it is a lifesaving substitute for kidney function.


In the case of acute kidney failure, dialysis is not done at home; it is usually done at a hospital or dialysis center. To take over kidney function, the treatment relies on a dialyzer, which is an artificial kidney.
Blood is pumped out of the body to the dialyzer through one of two routes:


  • A catheter placed surgically in one of the main blood veins.
  • A surgically created junction between a vein and an artery in the arm.


The blood moves inside the dialyzer across membranes that filter out waste, before being returned to the body. At any one time, there is less than 1 cup (237 milliliters) of blood is in the dialyzer (outside the body) and tubing.


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