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Acute Kidney Failure


  • Acute kidney failure is also called acute renal failure or ARF. Acute kidney failure occurs when one or both kidneys suddenly stop working. It may take only a few hours or up to a few weeks for the kidneys to fail. Acute kidney failure is usually caused by other diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. You may pass little to no urine, have edema (swelling) of arms, feet, or face, or increased blood pressure. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that remove unwanted chemicals and waste from the blood.
    Picture of the urinary system
  • Blood and urine tests will be done to check how your kidneys are working. X rays, an ultrasound, or a computerized axial tomography (CT) scan may also be done. You may need medicine or have dialysis, surgery, or a kidney transplant to treat acute kidney failure. With proper and timely treatment, acute kidney failure can be cured. It can become a long term kidney problem called chronic kidney failure if left untreated.


Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists.

  • Some medicines can poison or damage kidney tissue, such as some antibiotics and herbal medicine, antacids, or aspirin. These can poison or damage kidney tissues.
  • If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, take your medicines as directed.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

How can you take care of yourself at home?

  • Ask your caregiver if you need to change your diet.
    • You may need to eat a high-calorie, low-protein diet. You may also need to eat low sodium (salt) and potassium foods. Choose a variety of items on this diet to avoid getting tired of having the same items every day.
    • Keep a list of items in your kitchen that are allowed on your diet. Use special cookbooks to help find new recipes.
    • You may need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, such as calcium.
    • Follow your caregiver's advice about what liquids and how much of those liquids you should drink. You may need to record how much liquid you drink and how much you urinate.
  • Avoid alcohol-containing drinks. These include beer, whiskey, wine, gin, or other adult drinks.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes. Smoking harms the heart, kidneys, lungs, and the blood.
  • Stay active. Ask your caregiver for an exercise program best for you.


  • You cannot make it to your follow-up or dialysis visit.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • Your skin is itchy or has a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your care or treatment.


  • You are breathing fast, have a fast heart beat, or feel confused, dizzy, or lightheaded.
  • You are passing little to no urine.
  • You cannot eat or drink because you are vomiting (throwing up).
  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing all of a sudden.

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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Acute Kidney Failure (Aftercare Instructions)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex