What is Acute Renal Failure?

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  • Written By: S. Gonzales
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2019
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Acute renal failure is the sudden stopping of kidney function. It is dangerous to an individual because kidney failure means that the body's ability to remove waste products, electrolytes and fluids is compromised. The result can be a potentially fatal buildup of these items in the body.

Acute renal failure can occur for any number of different reasons, but the three most common explanations are blood flow problems, toxic damage caused by medicines, infections and poisons and kidney blockage. Blood circulation problems can manifest due to blood loss or dehydration. A sepsis infection, or an accumulation of toxins or bacteria, can negatively impact the kidneys as well. Some antibiotics, pain medications, blood pressure medicines and X-ray dyes have also been shown to harm the kidneys, though this is more common in people who already suffer from related, common health problems. In addition, kidney stones, tumors, enlarged prostate glands and injury can damage the kidneys and result in acute renal failure.


Because acute renal failure is severe and sudden, it differs from general chronic kidney diseases. Those who have long-term, pre-existing conditions and kidney problems are more likely to experience acute renal failure than those who do not. Mature adults who suffer from conditions like liver disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems and obesity should be aware that their chances of experiencing acute renal failure are increased. Likewise, those undergoing certain surgeries or treatments like belly or heart surgery and bone marrow transplants are also susceptible to acute renal failure.

Certain symptoms may point to acute failure of the kidneys. Problems with urinating, diminished appetite, swollen feet and legs, nausea, vomiting and aches and pains below the rib cage may indicate that kidney function has been compromised. In addition, patients suffering from kidney problems may also experience psychological changes, such as feeling more confused, restless, anxious or sleepier than usual. However, it should be noted that these symptoms are not exclusive to patients with kidney conditions. Some patients may even appear healthy and not have any symptoms make themselves obvious to them or to their doctors.

About 50% of patients who are treated for acute renal failure will recover and not suffer any long-term damage. For these patients, quality of life will not be diminished. However, if the condition is not caught and treated within a maximum of a few weeks, patients may experience long-term damage and chronic problems associated with the condition.



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