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Acute Kidney Disease

Acute kidney disease is sudden loss of kidney function. It results from short-term conditions that can cause sudden shut-down of kidney function or as the final phase of end-stage chronic kidney failure. Causes of acute kidney failure are:

  • prerenal failure, which is a decrease in blood flow to the kidney, caused by heart failure; low blood volume due to injury, shock or severe dehydration; overuse of diuretics (water pills); and narrowing or blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys (renal artery stenosis);
  • internal damage to the kidneys, from chronic kidney failure and/or from acute causes such as infection, or toxic exposures or overload (including from drugs such as antibiotics or chemotherapy);
  • and postrenal failure, which results from urinary-tract obstructions (to the urinary drainage tact of the kidney) from such causes as kidney stones or bladder obstruction due to prostate enlargement or blocked urinary catheter.

To diagnose acute renal failure, doctors will look for fluid retention, decreased urine output, heart or lung abnomalities and urea and creatinine in the blood. Radiologic studies may help to confirm the condition.

Immediate treatment may include intravenous therapy and medications to adjust and maintain fluid balance and blood pressure. If possible the nephrology team will treat the cause of failure, including any vascular or urinary blockages, sometimes with the help of interventional urology or radiology. As needed, Virtua nephrologists institute dialysis immediately for acute kidney failure.

If the damage is not chronic and the cause correctible, kidneys will usually return to function over a period of weeks or months. If the patient suffers from end-stage damage to the kidneys, the nephrology team will help the patient pursue the kidney transplant process. Acute kidney injury can also sometimes occur temporarily in the presence of ongoing chronic kidney failure, or it can increase a patient’s risk of eventually developing chronic kidney failure.

In cases of acute loss of kidney function, the nephrology team works to promptly treat the underlying problem, if possible, often collaborating with other specialists.


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