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Acute kidney failure – symptoms and causes

Acute kidney failure is a condition in which the kidney suddenly becomes incapable to filter waste from the blood, thus causing major health complications. When the kidneys lose their filtering capability, the waste products from the blood tend to accumulate rather than filter out. This, in turn, causes the chemicals in the body to get disproportionate and cause problems.

Acute kidney failure, also referred to as renal failure develops very quickly and usually in a few days. It is very common in people who are already hospitalized or are critically ill and need intensive care. This condition can be fatal if not treated properly and in time. That said, the problem is reversible if the patient is otherwise in good health and previously had a near-to-normal kidney function.

Symptoms of Acute Kidney Failure

In some cases, there are no symptoms; however, general symptoms of acute kidney failure include:

  • Reduction in urine
  • Swelling in the legs, ankle and feet due to retention of fluids caused by the failure of the kidneys
  • Shortness of breath
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Consistent nausea
  • Confusion
  • Pain or pressure in the chest area
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat

Some early signs of acute kidney failure include:

  • Decreased urine output
  • Retention of fluid causing swelling in the limbs
  • Shortness of breath

Causes of Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure can be caused due to the following factors:

  • A health condition that slows down the blood flow to the kidneys caused by conditions such as:
  • Blood or fluid loss
  • Heart attack
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Infection
  • Liver failure
  • Heart disease
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Use of certain medicines
  • Severe burns
  • Critical dehydration
  • An injury or trauma that directly impacted the kidney, such as:
  • Blood clots in the veins and arteries around the kidneys
  • Cholesterol deposits that restrict the blood flow in the kidneys
  • Infection
  • Lupus, the disorder of the immune system
  • Scleroderma, a rare problem of the skin and connective tissues
  • Toxins such as alcohol, heavy metals and cocaine
  • Muscle tissue breakdown
  • Breaking of tumour cells releasing toxins and causing kidney injuries
  • Rare blood disorders such as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura
  • Certain treatment and medications including chemotherapy, antibiotics, dues used in imaging tests
  • Premature destruction of red blood cells causing the hemolytic uremic syndrome
  • Inflammation of the filters in the kidneys known as Glomerulonephritis
  • Deposits of cholesterol that block the flow of blood to the kidneys
  • The ureters (urine drainage tubes) become blocked, blocking the waste from being excreted from the body. These conditions include:
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Blood clots in the urinary tract
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney stones
  • Damage of the nerves that control the bladder
  • Prostate cancer
  • Enlarged prostate

Risk Factors of Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure often occurs in combination with another health condition. Some conditions which increase the risk of a person experiencing acute kidney failure are:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney diseases
  • Liver diseases
  • Certain cancers and their treatment
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure problem
  • Increasing age
  • Hospitalized for a serious condition that requires intensive care

Blockages in the 

  • blood vessels of the arms and legs. Also known as peripheral artery disease

Complications of Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure can become fatal if not diagnosed timely and treated with immediate care. Some of the other potential complications of the problem include:

  • Accumulation of fluid in the body organs such as lungs, thereby resulting in shortness of breath
  • Chest pain which occurs when the lining of the heart becomes inflamed due to kidney failure
  • A weakness of muscles caused by an imbalance of electrolytes and body fluids
  • Permanent kidney damage or also called end-stage renal disease can happen occasionally to people suffering from acute kidney failure. This kind of problem requires permanent dialysis that helps remove the toxins and waste from the body, thereby substituting the kidney function. In severe cases, a kidney transplant may the only option to save a patient in such a case.
  • Death can also be another complication of acute kidney failure since it can lead to permanent loss of kidney function

Treatment of Acute Kidney Failure

In case, there are no other critical problems, the kidneys tend to heal themselves. Also, in most cases, acute kidney failure can be treated effectively provided it is detected early on. That said, the type of treatment depends on the severity of the problem, underlying health condition, age, etc.

Some treatment options for acute kidney failure include:

Diet: By limiting the amount of salt and potassium in the food, the kidneys can be supported to heal better. Both salt and potassium are removed from the body by the kidneys, thus, when the kidneys stop functioning effectively these elements need to be present in a minimum quantity in the body. That said, diet modifications will not reverse the acute kidney failure; however, it is important to protect the kidneys from further damage while the underlying problem is being treated.

Medications: When the kidneys fail, the amount of phosphorus and potassium in the body can increase since the filters of the body (the kidneys) are not functioning properly. Medicines help to regulate the levels of these substances in the body and also prevent some problems caused by kidney failure. However, these are not helpful in reversing the damage caused by acute kidney failure.

Dialysis: For patients in severe conditions dialysis of blood may be required until the kidneys completely heal from the damage. Hemodialysis does not help the kidneys heal but performs its function to allow their healing. In case, the kidneys do not heal, the dialysis could be required for a long-time period.

Kidney Transplant: Another and the last resort to acute kidney failure is a kidney transplant. A transplanted kidney functions normally and does not require any dialysis. However, the patient might have to wait for a long period before a donor’s kidney is available. That said, in case of a living donor, the process is quicker. Transplant surgery is not the treatment option for all acute kidney failures; the suitable treatment is determined by the doctor based on the case.

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