Dr. med. Dirk Manski

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Acute Kidney Injury – Acute Renal Failure (1/2)

Review literature: (Klahr and Miller, 1998) (Lameire et al, 2005) (Schrier and Wang, 2004 ) (Thadhani et al, 1996).

Definition of Acute Kidney Injury

Acute kidney injury is an abrupt (within 48 hours) reduction in kidney function currently defined as an absolute increase in serum creatinine of more than or equal to 0.3 mg/dl (≥ 26.4 μmol/l), a percentage increase in serum creatinine of more than or equal to 50% (1.5-fold from baseline), or a reduction in urine output (documented oliguria of less than 0.5 ml/kg per hour for more than six hours) (Mehta et al, 2007).

Definitions of Urine Output

The urine output alone is not a good parameter to predict renal function, as acute renal failure may be present with polyuria, oliguria or anuria.

Epidemiology of Acute Kidney Injury

30% of critically ill patients suffer of acute kidney injury. Acute kidney injury doubles the mortality on intensive care units compared to patients with similiar disease without acute kidney injury.

Etiology of Acute Kidney Injury

Prerenal Kidney Failure

The failure of renal function is due to deteriorating working conditions of the kidney. The most common reason is a reduced renal blood flow. Per definition, there is no primary renal disease or postrenal failure (no disorders of urine transport).

Intravascular volume depletion:

Trauma, burns, bleeding, allergic shock, sepsis, pancreatitis, dehydration.

Decreased cardiac output:

Acute heart diseases such as myocardial ischemia, pulmonary embolism or decreased cardiac output due to mechanical ventilation.

Decreased renal blood flow:

Medication with ACE inhibitors or NSAID, anesthesia, hepatorenal syndrome, hyperviscosity syndrome in multiple myeloma or polycythemia.

Renal Kidney Failure

The failure of renal function is due to renal diseases.

Renal vessel diseases:

Microvascular diseases:

Tubulointerstitial diseases:

Acute tubular necrosis:

Acute necrosis of tubular cells is caused by ischemia or toxic substances. The damage to the kidney function is aggravated by dead tubular cells, which occlude the renal tubules. After repair of the tubular cells, the renal function can recover.

Toxic substances produced the tubular damage either by ischemia (e.g. vasoconstriction by contrast agents) or cell damage (e.g. cisplatin). Further common toxic substances for acute tubular necrosis are aminoglycosides, antibiotics, antifungals, chemotherapy, chemicals (heavy metals, solvents, insecticides), drugs (heroin, amphetamines), or D-penicillamine. Endogenous toxins are free hemoglobin (hemolysis) or myoglobin (rhabdomyolysis).

Postrenal Kidney Failure

Postrenal kidney failure is the deterioration of renal function due to inadequate drainage of urine. This is the least common cause of acute renal failure, since one kidney is sufficient for the detoxification function and causes of postrenal kidney failure have to affect both kidneys.

Pathophysiology of Acute Kidney Injury

Excess of Extracellular Fluid Volume

Acute kidney injury causes a reduced salt and water excretion. This leads to weight gain, shortness of breath and pulmonary edema.


Potassium increases 0.5 mmol/l/day during anuria. Hyperkalemia is particularly serious with additional cell disintegration (tumor lysis, hemolysis, rhabdomyolysis).

Metabolic Acidosis

Metabolic acidosis is caused by the lack of elimination of acids from the protein metabolism, which cannot be eliminated by respiration. Metabolic acidosis is pronounced in acute kidney injury due to diabetic ketoacidosis, lactic acidosis, liver disease and tissue ischemia.

Hyperphosphatemia and Hypocalcemia

Hyperphosphatemia and hypocalcemia develops due to secondary hyperparathyroidism.


Acute kidney injury leads to a decreased renal erythropoietin secretion, hemodilution and decreased survival of erythrocytes. The risk of bleeding is increased due to dysfunction of thrombocytes.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Kidney Injury

Uremia resulting from acute renal failure causes non-specific complaints. The underlying disease for the acute kidney injury is crucial for most of the symptoms.

Symptoms of Prerenal Kidney Failure

Symptoms of Renal Kidney Failure

Usually, a risk situation for renal ischemia or toxic renal damage is observable.

Symptoms of Postrenal Kidney Failure

Flank pain, abdominal pain or neurological symptoms are suspicious for a postrenal kidney failure.

Symptoms due to Complications of Acute Kidney Injury

Index: 1–9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Klahr und Miller 1998 KLAHR, S. ; MILLER, S. B.:
Acute oliguria.
In: N Engl J Med
338 (1998), Nr. 10, S. 671–5

Lameire u.a. 2005 LAMEIRE, N. ; VAN BIESEN, W. ; VANHOLDER, R.:
Acute renal failure.
In: Lancet
365 (2005), Nr. 9457, S. 417–30

Mehta, R. L.; Kellum, J. A.; Shah, S. V.; Molitoris, B. A.; Ronco, C.; Warnock, D. G.; Levin, A. & AKIN
Acute Kidney Injury Network: report of an initiative to improve outcomes in acute kidney injury.
Crit Care, 2007, 11, R31.

Schrier und Wang 2004 SCHRIER, R. W. ; WANG, W.:
Acute renal failure and sepsis.
In: N Engl J Med
351 (2004), Nr. 2, S. 159–69

Thadhani u.a. 1996 THADHANI, R. ; PASCUAL, M. ; BONVENTRE, J. V.:
Acute renal failure.
In: N Engl J Med
334 (1996), Nr. 22, S. 1448–60

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