Acute Kidney Failure


Acute kidney failure occurs when one or both of your kidneys suddenly stop working. Acute kidney failure is also called acute renal failure (ARF). Normally, kidneys remove chemicals and waste from the blood. These wastes are turned into urine by the kidneys. In acute kidney failure, your kidneys can no longer do this.



  • Blood pressure medicine: This is given to lower your blood pressure. A controlled blood pressure helps protect your organs, such as your heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. Take your blood pressure medicine exactly as directed.

  • Diuretics: This medicine is given to decrease edema (excess fluid) that collects in a part of your body, such as your legs. Diuretics can also remove excess fluid from around your heart or lungs and decrease your blood pressure. It is often called water pills. You may urinate more often when you take this medicine.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your primary healthcare provider or nephrologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Rest often:

It is normal to feel very tired with acute kidney failure. Your symptoms may get even worse if you become overtired. Rest or nap when you feel it is needed. Pace your activities each day to save your energy. Break tasks down into smaller tasks. Go to bed early and get up late if you feel you need more sleep.

Change your diet:

You may need to work with a dietitian to change your diet until your kidney function returns to normal. Ask your primary healthcare provider how long you need to do this. Here are some of the changes you may need to make:

  • Limit protein: This will help decrease the wastes in your blood and help your kidneys work better. Foods that are high in protein are meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt). Your caregiver will tell you how much protein to eat each day.

  • Limit phosphorus: Your kidneys may not be able to get rid of extra phosphorus. This can reduce calcium in your bones and make them weak. Foods that are high in phosphorus are dairy products, beans, peas, and nuts. Phosphorous is also found in liquids, such as cocoa, beer, and cola drinks. Your caregiver will tell you how much phosphorus you should have each day.

  • Limit sodium: Caregivers will tell you how much sodium you should have each day. Foods high in sodium are canned foods, deli meats and sausage, soups, and salted snacks.

  • Limit potassium: You may also need to limit foods with potassium. Potassium is found in fruits and vegetables.

Weigh yourself daily:

Ask your primary healthcare provider what your weight should be and how much liquid you should drink each day. During acute kidney failure, your kidneys may not be able to filter any extra liquid you drink. If this happens, you will gain weight rapidly. Weigh yourself every day. Write down your weight, how much liquid you drink or eat, and how much you urinate each day. Call your primary healthcare provider or nephrologist if your weight is higher or lower than it should be.

For support and more information:

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
    Building 31, room 9A04 Center Drive, MSC 2560
    Bethesda , MD 208922560
    Web Address:
  • American Association of Kidney Patients
    3505 E. Frontage Rd, Suite 315
    Tampa , FL 33607-1796
    Phone: 1- 800 - 749-2257
    Web Address:

Contact your primary healthcare provider or nephrologist if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have chills, cough, or feel weak and achy.

  • Your skin is itchy or you have a rash.

  • You cannot make it to your follow-up visit or dialysis treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You are breathing fast, have a fast heart beat, or feel confused, dizzy, or lightheaded.

  • You are urinating very little or not at all.

  • You cannot eat or drink because you are vomiting.

  • You have sudden chest pain or trouble breathing.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Acute Kidney Failure (Discharge Care)