Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure (ARF), often referred to as acute kidney injury, occurs when the kidneys suddenly stop filtering waste products from the blood. This sudden loss of function can result from injury, trauma, infection, or from complications around the time of surgery. 

Causes of Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure can be caused by a loss of blood flow to the kidneys, or when blocked or damaged kidneys prevent urine from flowing. Although ARF can affect anyone, it is more common in older people, and those who suffer from underlying conditions that include the following:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure

Symptoms of Acute Renal Failure

Unlike chronic renal failure, in which symptoms develop slowly and over time, acute renal failure may cause the sudden onset of symptoms such as:

  • Swelling
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath


Diagnosis of Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure is diagnosed through a complete review of symptoms and a physical examination by a doctor. Additional tests may include the following:

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests

A kidney biopsy also may be performed to further determine the cause of ARF.

Treatment of Acute Renal Failure

Treatment for ARF aims to restore kidney function, and prevent waste from building up in the body. Treating the underlying cause or illness can help the kidneys to regain function. In more severe cases, dialysis may be needed for days or weeks or even months to clean the blood until the kidneys regain function on their own.  In the most severe cases of ARF, the kidneys never recover, and long term dialysis or a kidney transplant will be needed.

Additional Resources