Acute Kidney Failure: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Kidney Failure, Acute

Acute kidney failure (AKF) is a condition in which the kidneys suddenly become unable to filter waste products from the blood. This can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

AKF can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Pre-renal causes: These causes occur before the kidneys and can lead to a decrease in blood flow to the kidneys. Examples include dehydration, shock, and heart failure.
  • Renal causes: These causes occur within the kidneys themselves and can damage the kidney tissue. Examples include glomerulonephritis, pyelonephritis, and kidney stones.
  • Post-renal causes: These causes occur after the kidneys and can block the flow of urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Examples include prostate enlargement, bladder stones, and urethral stricture.

AKF can be classified as either oliguric or non-oliguric. Oliguric AKF is characterized by a urine output of less than 400 mL per day. Non-oliguric AKF is characterized by a urine output of more than 400 mL per day.


The symptoms of AKF can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Mild AKF may not cause any symptoms, while severe AKF can be life-threatening.

Common symptoms of AKF include:

  • Decreased urine output
  • Swelling in the hands, feet, and face
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Coma


AKF is diagnosed based on a combination of symptoms, physical examination, and laboratory tests.

Laboratory tests that may be used to diagnose AKF include:

  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • Serum creatinine
  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR)
  • Urinalysis


The treatment for AKF depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, AKF can be reversed with treatment. However, in other cases, AKF may lead to permanent kidney damage.

Treatment options for AKF include:

  • Medications: Medications can be used to treat the underlying cause of AKF, such as antibiotics for infections or diuretics for fluid overload.
  • Dialysis: Dialysis is a procedure that uses a machine to filter waste products from the blood. Dialysis may be necessary if AKF is severe or if it does not respond to other treatments.
  • Kidney transplant: A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure in which a healthy kidney is transplanted into the body. A kidney transplant may be necessary if AKF is permanent.


AKF can lead to a number of complications, including:

  • Hyperkalemia: Hyperkalemia is a condition in which there is too much potassium in the blood. Hyperkalemia can be life-threatening if it is not treated.
  • Metabolic acidosis: Metabolic acidosis is a condition in which there is too much acid in the blood. Metabolic acidosis can lead to coma and death if it is not treated.
  • Fluid overload: Fluid overload can occur if the kidneys are unable to remove excess fluid from the body. Fluid overload can lead to swelling, high blood pressure, and heart failure.
  • Infection: AKF can increase the risk of infection. This is because the kidneys help to filter out bacteria from the blood.
  • Death: AKF can be fatal if it is not treated promptly.


There is no sure way to prevent AKF. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of developing AKF, including:

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, especially when you are exercising or sweating.
  • Control your blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage the kidneys.
  • Control your blood sugar: High blood sugar can damage the kidneys.
  • Avoid nephrotoxic medications: Some medications can damage the kidneys. Talk to your doctor about the risks of any medications you are taking.
  • Get vaccinated: Vaccinations can help to protect you from infections that can lead to AKF.
  • See your doctor regularly: Regular checkups can help to detect and treat kidney problems early on.


The outlook for people with AKF depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people with AKF will recover. However, some people with AKF may develop permanent kidney damage or even die.

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