Skip to Content
Acute kidney failure is the rapid (less than 2 days) loss of your kidneys' ability to remove waste and help balance fluids and electrolytes in your body.
Kidney failure; Renal failure; Renal failure - acute; ARF; Kidney injury - acute
There are many possible causes of kidney damage. They include:
Symptoms of acute kidney failure may include any of the following:
The health care provider will examine you.
Tests to check how well your kidneys are working include:
Other blood tests may be done to find the underlying cause of kidney failure.
A kidney or abdominal ultrasound is the preferred test for diagnosing a blockage in the urinary tract. X-ray, CT scan, or MRI of the abdomen can also tell if there is a blockage.
Once the cause is found, the goal of treatment is to help your kidneys work again and prevent fluid and waste from building up in your body while they heal. Usually, you will have to stay overnight in the hospital for treatment.
The amount of liquid you drink will be limited to the amount of urine you can produce. You will be told what you may and may not eat to reduce the buildup of toxins that the kidneys would normally remove. Your diet may need to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein, salt, and potassium.
You may need antibiotics to treat or prevent infection. Water pills (diuretics) may be used to help remove fluid from your body.
Medicines will be given through a vein to help control your blood potassium level.
You may need dialysis. This is a treatment that does what healthy kidneys normally do -- rid the body of harmful wastes, extra salt, and water. Dialysis can save your life if your potassium levels are dangerously high. Dialysis will also be used if:
Dialysis will most often be short term. In some cases, the kidney damage is so great that dialysis is needed permanently.
Call your provider if your urine output slows or stops or you have other symptoms of acute kidney failure.
To prevent acute kidney failure:
Devarajan P. Biomarkers for assessment of renal function during acute kidney injury. In: Alpern RJ, Moe OW, Caplan M, eds. Seldin and Giebisch's The Kidney. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:chap 75.
Molitoris BA. Acute kidney injury. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 120.
Sharfuddin AA, Weisbord SD, Palevsky PM, Molitoris BA. Acute kidney injury. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 31.
Reviewed By: Walead Latif, MD, nephrologist, Clinical Associate Professor, Rutgers Medical School, Newark, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.