Woman in pain due to acute renal failure

Acute Renal Failure: Know the Symptoms And What You Can Do to Prevent It

March 17, 2020

When an individual’s kidneys fail to work like they used to, this condition is known as acute kidney failure. This is likely to happen suddenly, and the symptoms are not felt until the disease has already progressed. In order to stop its progression, it is vital to learn acute renal failure symptoms and the methods of prevention.


What is Acute Renal Failure?

Once the kidneys fail at filtering waste products from the blood, this condition is referred to as acute renal failure (ARF) or acute kidney failure. When the kidneys fail to filter toxic wastes from the blood, then the chemical makeup of the blood becomes imbalanced.

This condition usually develops in less than a few hours or days. It is also common in individuals who are critically ill or are already hospitalized.



Research shows that approximately seven percent of hospitalized individuals are likely to develop ARF. Sixty-six percent of that seven percent are patients admitted to the ICU or intensive care unit. When it comes to the cause of ARF, there are three categories used by healthcare professionals.

  1. Pre-Renal: The flow of blood to the kidneys is affected in this category. Causes of renal failure include dehydration, excessive blood loss, or low blood pressure.
  2. Post-Renal: The ureters are blocked which affects the flow of urine. Such causes include an enlarged prostate in males, cancer, or the presence of kidney stones.
  3. Intrinsic Renal: For this category, a medical disorder could have caused damage to the kidneys. Some causes include the formation of blood clots in the kidneys or kidney infections. Medications that damage the kidney could also likely be a cause. Drugs that are highly likely to cause kidney damage include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), proton pump inhibitors, phenytoin, and rifampin.

Once the doctor identifies the cause of ARF, then treatment is recommended to prevent the condition from developing into chronic kidney failure.



The symptoms of ARF are sometimes not felt or noticed at once because it is usually accompanied by another medical condition like sepsis or pneumonia. Some of the signs include the following.

  • Confusion
  • Dark-Tinged Urine
  • Lower Urine Output
  • Pain or Pressure in the Chest
  • Skin Rashes or Itchy Skin Due to Waste Buildup
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Swelling of the Lower Extremities
  • Unexplained Nausea


Individuals may also manifest severe symptoms like loss of consciousness or seizures.



Depending on the urine output and test results, ARF is classified into three stages where stage 1 is ranked as the least dangerous whereas stage 3 is the most serious.

Stage 1 There is a noticeable increase in the kidney waste product called serum creatinine, approximately 1.5 to twice the amount from the baseline. The amount falls to 0.3 milligrams per deciliter. Moreover, an individual at this stage produces urine that is 0.5 milliliters per kilogram or less than their body weight in an hour.
Stage 2 The creatinine level at this stage rises to three times from the baseline. Moreover, the urine output falls to less than 0.5 milliliters per kilogram of their weight within 12 hours.
Stage 3 At this stage, the creatinine level is three times more than the baseline. Furthermore, there is no urine output for 12 hours. Since this is the most severe stage, treatment requires renal replacement therapy which is a continuous form of dialysis.


A doctor will recommend interventions to prevent the progression of ARF to stage 3.


Treatment of ARF

Depending on the origin of the condition, the treatment for ARF varies. Since there are a lot of possible reasons as to why ARF develops, then there are numerous treatments as well. If there is blood loss due to an illness or injury, then blood products are administered to restore the volume of blood in the body.

If medications are the cause of kidney damage, then the doctor would limit the intake of these drugs. On the other hand, if acute renal failure is due to an active infection caused by bacteria, then antibiotics are the next course of treatment.

For individuals suffering from low blood pressure, certain medications are given to stabilize the blood pressure. Such drugs are administered via the intravenous route. As for individuals whose kidney functions are severely affected, dialysis is recommended.

Dialysis involves the use of a machine that filters toxins from the blood of the affected individual. This process is done until the function of the kidneys improve.



An individual who has had previous ARF is likely to get it again in the future. Moreover, they are at a higher risk of developing other health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, or stroke. There are methods to minimize the risk of developing ARF. These include the following.

  • Avoid excessive intake of medications that the kidney has to filter. Such medicines include aspirin and ibuprofen. Excessive intake of these drugs may lead to kidney damage.
  • Maintain a blood pressure that is recommended for your age and weight through regular exercise and a healthy diet. If you have high blood pressure, then work with your doctor regarding the medications that should be consumed.
  • Consume well-balanced meals and keep the desired blood sugar level for your age. Try to limit fat and salt in the diet.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Limit the intake of alcohol.


When acute renal failure is left untreated, it is likely to progress to chronic kidney failure. It may also progress to nervous system damage, heart damage, high blood pressure, or end-stage renal failure. In worst-case scenarios, it could result in death due to severe trauma or infection of the kidneys. Other factors that heighten the risk of death alongside kidney failure include blood loss, a recent stroke, or lung disease.

These complications can be fully prevented as long as an individual with ARF receives adequate treatment. Consult with your doctor about methods of faster kidney healing and other ways to avoid further damage. Also, as soon as you notice symptoms of the condition, it is best to speak with your doctor at once.

Symptoms of acute renal failure