- The primary function of the kidneys is to filter the blood from various toxins and eliminate waste outside the body.
- Acute renal failure can be life threatening when not treated in time.
- Certain underlying medical conditions could also cause an acute renal failure.
Our body machinery comprises of various parts and components all together, embedded to function as a whole unit to support life. Each component that forms a part of the body machine has a specific contribution and any malfunction in any of the components can have adverse effects on the entire body. While they say the brain and the heart are the most important organs of the body, can the importance of the kidneys or liver be underestimated?
What is Acute Renal Failure?
The kidneys are primarily responsible for the filtering function in the body; however, there are also other functions that they perform, such as regulating the balance of minerals and nutrients in the body, including sodium and potassium; removing waste byproducts as well as toxins from the body after digestion, medications, or any other form of exposure to chemicals; making an enzyme called renin that helps in the regulation of blood pressure; making erythropoietin, a chemical substance in the body that helps in stimulating the production of red blood cells; and making vitamin D that is required for maintaining healthy bones.
The kidneys are also part of what is called the renal system of the body. Any sudden injury to the kidneys can lead to a renal injury or even cause an acute renal failure. Acute kidney failure is caused by an impairment in the functioning of the kidneys, which all of a suddenly lose their ability to eliminate toxins from the body. Kidneys perform the key function of eliminating salts, fluids, and other waste from the blood, and they eliminate it out of the body through urine.
When the kidney function becomes impaired, the kidneys are unable to flush out urine from the body, thereby affecting their ability to eliminate toxins from the body. This causes a situation in the body wherein the fluid levels in the body increase to a large extent, putting further pressure on the kidneys. With the increase of pressure, the kidneys first slow down drastically in their functioning and finally go toward a renal failure. Since the failed kidney functioning does not flush out the toxins from the body, there is an accumulation of electrolytes and harmful toxins in the body that can become fatal for the patients.
The term acute kidney injury or acute renal failure is also used to signify the situation of acute kidney failure. This condition is commonly seen in people recuperating from critical medical illnesses in the hospital or those at the end of life stage. The kidney functioning could deteriorate very quickly; in fact, it may deteriorate in a few hours or so, while the development of kidney problems can take a few days to weeks. People who are severely ill or under intensive care are at high risk of developing renal failure.
Is Acute Renal Failure Life-Threatening?
Acute kidney failure is considered to be a critical situation and can be fatal. It requires urgent medical attention normally in the intensive care unit of a hospital. The only solace is that for people who are suffering from only this medical condition, with all other health parameters being normal, acute renal failure condition can be reversed and recovery can be made by the patients from this situation. However, in some cases like patients with old age, the condition can hardly be changed; rather, it is managed.
What Causes Acute Renal Failure?
Certain disorders can cause clotting within your kidney’s blood vessels, and this can lead to acute kidney failure. Primarily, there are three conditions attributed to kidney failure, including:
- Blood flow to the kidneys gets hampered, causing less blood flowing to the kidneys
- Certain long-term illnesses or medical conditions directly causing damage to the kidneys
- Excessive urine collected in the kidneys
The above conditions can occur due to any of the following reasons:
- Having a serious accident or an injury with blood loss
- Severe dehydration
- The body going into a sepsis shock or any other form of shock or trauma
- Blockage in the flow of urine due to conditions such as enlargement of the prostrate
- Taking drugs or substances that increases the level of toxins in the body
- Complications associated with medical conditions such as pregnancy
Sportsmen and athletes are advised to keep up their fluid intake levels during any sport, such as running, to avoid dehydration that can suddenly lead to acute renal failure due to the sudden breakdown of muscle tissues. This sudden breakdown results in the production of a protein that enters the bloodstream, which is known as myoglobin. Myoglobin eventually damages the kidneys.
What are the Risks Associated with Acute Renal Failure?
There are some people with high risk of suffering from an acute renal failure. For these people, kidneys are under constant pressure and can fail at any time. Some of the people with high chances of kidney failure include:
- Those suffering from ailments related to the kidneys and liver
- Patients with long-term diabetes and uncontrolled diabetes
- People with hypertension or high blood pressure
- Those with cardiac issues including heart failure
- People who are overweight or obese
Those being treated in the hospital for various medical ailments, including those who are being kept under observation in the ICU, are highly susceptible to acute renal failure. Transplants and major surgeries can also put one at sudden risk of a renal failure.
Diagnosing an Acute Renal Failure
Those with acute renal failure show the first signs in the form of edema, which is fluid retention that can affect any part of the body, particularly the hands and legs. The doctor may use a stethoscope to check for sounds in your lungs that may be indicative of fluid retention.
Certain laboratory tests along with imaging scans like USG may be recommended to confirm the condition of the kidneys. Some tests that may be prescribed by the doctor measure levels of creatinine, serum potation, sodium, blood urea nitrogen, and so on. Some blood tests may also indicate underlying medical conditions that could be the cause of acute kidney failure.
Can Kidney Failure be Treated?
The treatment of acute kidney failure largely depends on the factors that may be responsible for the kidney failure. The objective of the treatment is to normalize the function of the kidneys and prevent the buildup of wastes and fluids in the body. A nephrologist is a kidney specialist who would recommend the course of treatment based on a complete analysis of the patient’s health, including other medical conditions that are present and medications that are being consumed by the patient. As a part of the treatment, the doctor will suggest a diet that is low in salt, proteins, potassium, and other limitations that the doctor may deem fit. The doctor is also likely to restrict the fluid intake of the patient so as to reduce the pressure on the kidneys.
The doctor may recommend medications like antibiotics to prevent the occurrence of infections that may be suspected. Diuretics are suggested to reduce water retention by helping the kidneys eliminate the fluids in the body.
Extreme cases of kidney failure require dialysis, which again depends on various factors like age, other medical ailments, etc. Dialysis is a medical procedure through which the blood from the body is diverted to the dialysis machine that filters the waste and then passes on the clean blood back into the body. For extreme cases of renal failure, where the creatinine and potassium levels are too high, dialysis can be a life-saver.
Signs of acute renal failure should not be disregarded. If acute renal failure is suspected, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. This will help eliminate further complications.