Many patients have generalized swelling caused by fluid retention. The doctor may hear a heart murmur, crackles in the lungs, or signs of inflammation of the lining of the heart when listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope.
The results of laboratory tests may change suddenly (within a few days to 2 weeks). Such tests may include:
Once the cause is found, the goal of treatment is to restore kidney function and prevent fluid and waste from building up in the body while the kidneys heal. Usually, you have to stay overnight in the hospital for treatment.
The amount of liquid you eat (such as soup) or drink will be limited to the amount of urine you can produce. You will be told what you may and may not eat to reduce the buildup of toxins normally handled by the kidneys. Your diet may need to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein, salt, and potassium.
You may need antibiotics to treat or prevent infection. Diuretics ("water pills") may be used to help the kidneys lose fluid.
Calcium or glucose/insulin will be given through a vein to help avoid dangerous increases in blood potassium levels.
Dialysis may be needed, and can make you feel better. It is not always necessary, but it can save your life if your potassium levels are dangerously high. Dialysis will also be used if your mental status changes, you stop urinating, develop pericarditis, retain too much fluid, or cannot eliminate nitrogen waste products from your body.
The stress of having an illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
Acute kidney failure is potentially life-threatening and may require intensive treatment. However, the kidneys usually start working again within several weeks to months after the underlying cause has been treated.
Charles Silberberg, DO, Private Practice specializing in Nephrology, Affiliated with New York Medical College, Division of Nephrology, Valhalla, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.