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Symptoms and Signs of Acute Kidney Failure: Causes & Symptoms

Doctor's Notes on Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure (also termed renal failure) is a rapid inability for the kidneys partly or completely lose their ability to filter water and waste from the blood. In the early stages of acute kidney failure, there may be little or no symptoms produced. However, signs and symptoms of acute kidney failure usually come about quickly and are as follows: decreased energy that leads to a decrease in the ability to do normal activities, puffiness or swelling in the legs and around the eyes, shortness of breath, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, decreased or lack of urine production, lightheadedness, confusion, itching, easy bruising, metallic taste in the mouth and elevated blood pressure. Acute complete loss of kidney function results in a medical emergency and usually produces severe symptoms of the above with resultant seizures, coma or death if not treated quickly.

Causes of acute kidney failure can be categorized as prerenal, renal and post-renal.

Prerenal causes usually affect the flow of blood to the kidneys; they include dehydration, drop in blood pressure, blood loss, blockage or narrowing of kidney blood vessels, heart failure, liver failure, and/or heart attacks.

Renal failure problems are due to problems kidney itself that prevent proper filtration of blood and/or production of urine; they include blood vessel disease within the kidney, blood clots within the kidney injuries to the kidney tissue and cells, glomerulonephritis (damage to the initial filtration system), acute interstitial nephritis (inflammation of kidney tissue that handles saltwater balance), acute tubular necrosis (damage or death of the renal tubules that perform the kidneys filtration function), polycystic kidney disease (a genetic disorder characterized by numerous cysts in the kidneys).

Postrenal failure causes are due to problems affecting the movement of urine out of the kidneys; they include kidney stone formation, cancer of the urinary tract, some medications, bladder stones, blood clots in the bladder, bladder cancer, nerve disorders that damage the bladder’s ability to empty, enlarged prostate and urethral strictures.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.