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.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


Treatment for acute kidney failure may cause unpleasant side effects. You could get an infection or bleed too much during or after surgery. If acute kidney failure is not treated, it can be life-threatening. The risk of serious illness or death is much lower if acute kidney failure is treated early.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


It is normal to feel very tired much of the time with acute kidney failure. Your symptoms may get even worse if you get overtired. Rest or nap when you feel it is needed.

Blood tests:

You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.


You may need to eat special food to help your kidneys work their best. If you have been vomiting, your stomach may need to rest. You will not be able to eat or drink until the vomiting has stopped. A tube put into your blood vessels (an IV) will give you the liquids and vitamins that your body needs until you can eat.

A Foley catheter

is a tube put into your bladder to drain urine into a bag. Keep the bag below your waist. This will prevent urine from flowing back into your bladder and causing an infection or other problems. Also, keep the tube free of kinks so the urine will drain properly. Do not pull on the catheter. This can cause pain and bleeding, and may cause the catheter to come out. Caregivers will remove the catheter as soon as possible to help prevent infection.

Intake and output:

Caregivers will keep track of the amount of liquid you are getting. They also may need to know how much you are urinating. Ask how much liquid you should drink each day. Ask caregivers if they need to measure or collect your urine.


You may be given the following medicines:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • 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.

  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.


You may need one or more of the following tests to help caregivers plan your treatment:

  • Computerized axial tomography scan: This is also called a CT or CAT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your kidneys.

  • KUB x-ray: An x-ray machine takes pictures of your kidneys (K), ureters (U), and bladder (B). The ureters are tiny tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. The bladder is where the urine is stored before leaving your body. Caregivers use these pictures to check for problems with your intestines , kidneys, or abdomen.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging: This test is also called MRI. During the MRI, pictures are taken of your kidneys. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch, or any other metal objects. This may cause serious injury. Tell your caregiver if you have any metal implants in your body.

  • Percutaneous kidney biopsy: A percutaneous kidney biopsy is when a very small piece of your kidney is taken out and tested. For this procedure, you will need to lie face-down and hold very still. You may get medicine to help you relax before the biopsy. You may also get medicine to make the area numb (lose feeling) before the needle is put in. Caregivers put a needle into your back and through to your kidney. The needle has a sharp edge that will cut out a tiny piece of your kidney. The needle may have to be put in two or more times. After the needle is taken out, a bandage will be put over the area.

  • Renal ultrasound: This is a test using sound waves to look at your kidneys. Pictures of your kidneys show up on a TV-like screen. A renal ultrasound can show if you have kidney stones, an abscess, or other problems.

  • Urine test: Urine is usually collected for 24 hours and is measured and sent to a lab for tests.

Treatment options:

You may have one or more of the following:

  • Dialysis: Dialysis is a treatment that cleans your blood of wastes when your kidneys no longer work well.

  • Kidney transplant: Surgery may be done to put a healthy kidney from another person into your body. Your diseased or injured kidneys will be removed during this surgery.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery if your kidney failure is caused by a blockage in your urinary system.

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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 (Inpatient Care)