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Acute Kidney Injury

What Is Acute Kidney Injury and Failure?

Your kidneys:

  • Remove waste products from the body.
  • Help control blood pressure.
  • Help keep your electrolytes balanced in your body.

Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys stop working, most often because of chronic kidney disease causing damage over time. But acute kidney injury happens suddenly.

Acute kidney injury and failure causes

Other health problems can cause acute kidney injury and failure.

Low blood pressure

Issues that can cause low blood pressure include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Organ failure
  • Overuse of pain medications or other drug effects
  • Burns
  • Severe diarrhea or other GI problems

Direct damage to the kidneys

This is often due to chronic disease that causes inflammation and scarring in your kidney.

Other diseases or even some medicine can also cause direct damage to the kidney.

Blockages that stop the flow of urine to your bladder

Issues that can block the flow of urine include:

Acute kidney injury risks and complications

Factors that may increase your risk for acute kidney injury include:

  • Any serious condition that causes a hospital stay.
  • Kidney disease of any kind.
  • Diabetes.
  • Being over the age of 60.
  • Certain cancers.

Complications linked to acute kidney injury include:

  • Permanent kidney damage.
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs.
  • More life-threatening electrolyte effects, such as high potassium levels.
  • Further side effects from drugs that your kidney processes.

Recovery from kidney injury depends on what caused the damage and your overall health.

Why choose UPMC for kidney care?

At the UPMC Kidney Disease Center:

  • Our world-renowned experts treat the full spectrum of kidney diseases using the latest techniques for diagnosis and treatment.
  • We'll work with you to find a reversible cause for your kidney injury.
  • We help you choose a treatment option including supportive care, dialysis, or kidney transplant.

After treatment, your kidneys may fully heal. In some cases, acute kidney injury may cause permanent damage and require more advanced treatment.

Acute Kidney Failure and Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of kidney failure and damage

Call your doctor if you suffer from:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Heavy or sudden bleeding
  • Insomnia
  • Itching
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Lack of urine
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Swelling in the legs or ankles, or around the eyes

Diagnosing acute kidney injury

If your doctor thinks acute kidney injury is the cause of your signs and symptoms, they'll refer you to a nephrologist.

Your kidney doctor will order a series of tests, including:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests measure creatinine, a waste product made by muscles, and urea nitrogen, made in the liver. If your kidneys aren't working properly, both these levels will be higher than normal.
  • Urine tests. Urine tests will help your doctor learn what's causing your kidney failure.
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. These may show if there's a block in the urinary tract or in the blood vessels that lead to the kidneys.

Acute Kidney Injury and Failure Treatment

At the UPMC Kidney Disease Center, we'll work with you to find a reversible cause of your acute kidney injury. Then we'll design a treatment plan based on that cause.

If diagnosed early, acute kidney injury treatments include:

  • Diet changes. You might need to make some diet changes to reduce strain on your injured kidneys or to support healing.
  • Medicine. Depending on the cause of your injury, some drugs may help support your kidneys while they heal. You'll also need to change any medications that may be harming your kidneys.
  • Short-term dialysis. In some cases, your kidneys may temporarily stop performing their vital functions. Dialysis can take over for your kidneys for a short time, cleaning waste from your blood and controlling your blood pressure.

For cases where injury has led to kidney failure, we'll help you decide the best treatment for you such as:

  • Supportive care. Intended to help you live with kidney disease and avoid dialysis, this treatment is ideal for some people. Our experts stand at the forefront of research and treatment for supportive care.
  • Hemodialysis. You'll go to specialty clinic three times a week for this treatment. We partner with many clinics, and we can also help you set up for hemodialysis at home.
  • Peritoneal dialysis. If you prefer to have dialysis treatments from the comfort of their home, peritoneal dialysis is one of the best options.
  • Kidney transplant. Transplant is the only cure for permanent kidney failure. We work with the leading surgeons at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute to provide this treatment.

No matter the cause of your kidney injury, you have hope at the UPMC Kidney Disease Center. We're here to help you return to a healthy life.

Contact the UPMC Kidney Disease Center

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