Acute kidney injury or AKI occurs when your kidneys suddenly stop functioning the way they should. Also called acute renal failure, AKI can cause serious medical problems if not treated quickly and appropriately.
AKI usually occurs as a result of three main causes: a blockage in the tubes that normally allow urine to drain from the kidneys, sometimes caused by formation of kidney stones or tumors, or an enlarged prostate gland; a sudden decrease in blood flow to the kidneys, often as a result of injury, severe dehydration or widespread infection called sepsis; or damage caused by exposure to poisons, untreated kidney infections or long-term use of some medications, including antibiotics, pain medications and certain blood pressure medications. Dyes used in certain types of imaging tests can also cause AKI.
In addition, several risk factors have been associated with acute kidney injury, including older age, obesity, recent heart or belly surgery or bone marrow transplants, being in the ICU with a serious illness, and long-term chronic diseases like heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, or kidney or liver disease.
AKI can cause an array of symptoms, including producing very little or no urine when trying to urinate; swelling in the legs and feet or elsewhere; lower back pain just below the ribcage; loss of appetite; nausea and vomiting; and fever. In its very early stages, AKI can be difficult to detect, with few noticeable symptoms developing before damage has occurred.
Diagnosis of AKI begins with a discussion of your symptoms and a medical history, including a list of all medications and supplements you're taking. A physical exam will be performed along with urine tests and blood tests. Ultrasound may also be performed to obtain images of your kidneys. Once AKI has been diagnosed, treatment will be based on the underlying cause of the injury, which may include cessation of medications known to cause kidney problems, restoration of normal blood flow to the kidneys, procedures to remove blockages, antibiotics to treat infection and other approaches. If the symptoms are severe, dialysis may also be ordered to remove built-up wastes that accumulate when kidneys are not working properly.
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