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Acute Kidney Failure

(Acute Kidney Injury)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2023
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The Kidneys

Your kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs that produce urine. They’re about the size of your fist and are in the back of your abdomen, near your spine. Kidneys balance your body’s water and mineral levels and filter waste out of your blood.

What is acute kidney failure?

An acute problem is one that has just started and probably won't last too long. So, acute kidney failure is when one or both of your kidneys suddenly stop working for a few days or weeks. If your kidneys stop working for a long time, you have chronic kidney disease Chronic Kidney Disease Your kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs that produce urine. They're about the size of your fist and are in the back of your abdomen, near your spine. Kidneys balance your body’s water and mineral... read more .

Doctors now use the term "acute kidney injury" to refer to acute kidney failure. But kidney failure is still the term most people know.

The Urinary Tract

The Urinary Tract

What causes acute kidney failure?

Acute kidney failure can be caused by:

  • Not enough blood getting to your kidneys

  • Something that blocks urine from draining out of your kidneys

  • Certain kidney diseases

  • Certain drugs or poisons

Your kidneys need a lot of blood. Your kidneys may not get enough blood if you have a lot of bleeding, have gotten very dehydrated, or your heart isn't pumping enough blood.

If a cancer or a kidney stone blocks the flow of urine, pressure builds up in the kidney. If the pressure stays high for a long time, your kidneys will be damaged.

Many drugs and other substances can damage your kidneys, for example:

  • Some antibiotics

  • Contrast agents used for certain x-rays

Contrast agents are liquids given by vein that make blood vessels and organs easier to see on x-rays.

Doctors often can’t find a cause for a person's acute kidney failure.

What are the symptoms of acute kidney failure?

Your symptoms depend on:

  • How badly your kidney is injured

  • What caused your acute kidney failure

  • How quickly your kidney problems are getting worse

First, you may have symptoms that include:

  • Weight gain

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles

  • Puffiness in your face and hands

  • Urinating less or not at all—most healthy adults urinate between 3 cups and 2 quarts of urine per day

Later symptoms:

  • Feeling sick to your stomach, tired, and less hungry

  • Trouble focusing

  • Itchiness or rashes

You also may have symptoms of the problem that caused your kidney failure.

How can doctors tell if I have acute kidney failure?

How do doctors treat acute kidney failure?

Doctors treat the problem that is causing your acute kidney failure. Your doctor may also:

Some kidney injuries are severe and life-threatening, and need to be treated in a special care unit in the hospital. You may need surgery, for example, if your kidneys and urine flow are blocked.

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