First Time User? Enroll now.
COVID-19: Vaccine information, visitor restrictions, testing, treatment, and additional resources | Medicaid: The program is changing and you must take steps to keep your UNC Health providers
Home > Health Library > Acute Kidney Injury
Acute kidney injury (which used to be called acute renal failure) means that your kidneys have suddenly stopped working normally. Your kidneys remove waste products and help balance water and salt and other minerals (electrolytes) in your blood. When your kidneys stop working, waste products, fluids, and electrolytes build up in your body. This can cause problems that can be deadly.
Acute kidney injury has three main causes:
You have a greater chance of getting acute kidney injury if:
Symptoms of acute kidney injury may include:
Some people may not have any symptoms. And for people who are already quite ill, the problem that's causing the kidney injury may be causing other symptoms.
Acute kidney injury is most often diagnosed during a hospital stay for another cause. If you are already in the hospital, tests done for other problems may find your kidney problem.
If you're not in the hospital but have symptoms of kidney injury, your doctor will ask about your symptoms, what medicines you take, and what tests you have had. Your symptoms can help point to the cause of your kidney problem.
Blood and urine tests can check how well your kidneys are working. A chemistry screen can show if you have normal levels of sodium (salt), potassium, and calcium. You may also have an ultrasound. This imaging test lets your doctor see a picture of your kidneys.
Your doctor or a kidney specialist (nephrologist) will try to treat the problem that is causing your kidney injury. Treatment can vary widely, depending on the cause. For example, your doctor may need to restore blood flow to the kidneys, stop any medicines that may be causing the problem, or remove or bypass a blockage in the urinary tract.
At the same time, the doctor will try to:
You can help yourself heal by taking your medicines as your doctor tells you to. You also may need to follow a special diet to keep your kidneys from working too hard. You may need to limit sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. A dietitian can help you plan meals.
Doctors sometimes can fix the problems that cause kidney injury. The treatment takes a few days or weeks. These people's kidneys will work well enough for them to live normal lives.
But other people may have permanent kidney damage that leads to chronic kidney disease. A small number of them will need to have regular dialysis or a kidney transplant. Older people and those who are very sick from other health problems may not get better. People who die usually do so because of the health problem that caused their kidneys to fail.
Current as of:
September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineTushar J. Vachharajani MD, FASN, FACP - Nephrology
Current as of: September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Tushar J. Vachharajani MD, FASN, FACP - Nephrology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.