What is Acute
Kidney Injury (AKI)?

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a sudden episode of kidney damage or kidney failure. With AKI, your kidneys stop working as they normally would to filter and clean your blood. This can cause harmful toxins and fluid to build up in your body. AKI is sometimes called acute kidney failure (AKF) or acute renal failure (ARF). When you need dialysis to treat your AKI, you may also hear it referred to as AKI-D.

What Causes AKI?

Acute kidney injury or acute renal failure is a common complication and has many different causes, including not enough blood flow to your kidneys, kidney damage, and a blocked urine pathway.

Decreased blood flow

Decreased blood flow to your kidneys can be caused by common diseases or health conditions, such as:

  • Low blood pressure or shock
  • Severe blood loss or fluid loss
  • Heart attack, heart failure, or heart disease
  • Major organ failure
  • Overuse of certain pain medications called NSAIDS (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen)
  • Anaphylactic shock (a severe allergic reaction), direct kidney damage, or kidney trauma

Direct kidney damage or kidney trauma

Some types of injury, diseases, or conditions can damage your kidneys and lead to AKI, including:

  • Physical injury
  • Sepsis—a life-threatening infection
  • Vasculitis—a rare blood vessel condition
  • Allergic reactions to certain drugs
  • Illegal drugs or some prescription medications
  • Diseases of connective tissue called scleroderma
  • Inflammation or damage to blood vessels in the kidneys

Urinary tract blockage

Some conditions or diseases can prevent urine from leaving your body and lead to AKI, such as:

  • Kidney stones
  • Blood clots in the urinary tract
  • Cancers of the bladder, cervix, or prostate


Treating AKI begins with treating the cause of your kidney injury. You may also need temporary dialysis to take over the job of your kidneys until they heal.


AKI is a possible complication of coronavirus (COVID-19). Learn about COVID-19 and what to do if you get sick.
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Learning what recovery from AKI looks like is important. Find out what to watch for and what to tell your doctor.

What are common symptoms of AKI?

The signs and symptoms of acute kidney injury may differ depending on the root cause of the kidney injury and from person to person. In some cases, AKI causes no symptoms and is only diagnosed after a test has been run by your doctor.

Noticeable symptoms may include:

  • A decrease in urine
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Pain or pressure in your chest
  • In extreme cases, seizures or a coma


The sooner you report signs or symptoms, the sooner your doctor can start treatment or connect your symptoms to another cause. Taking immediate action gives you your best chance at preserving kidney function.

What’s the difference between AKI and CKD?

Acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease (CKD) share some symptoms while having differences in what may cause the illness, how it is treated, and what recovery looks like.

Acute kidney Injury

  • Happens quickly—over hours or days
  • Requires immediate attention to the injury or illness and the AKI resulting from that injury or illness
  • Treatable and may be reversible when found and treated quickly
  • May lead to end stage renal disease (ESRD) if not reversed, which is treatable with a transplant or dialysis


Chronic kidney disease

  • Can progress through 5 stages of chronic kidney disease over time
  • Considered a long-term condition
  • Treatable to slow progression, though has no cure
  • May lead to end stage renal disease (ESRD), which is treatable with a transplant or dialysis

What should I expect after diagnosis with AKI?

In some cases, acute kidney injury is reversible. Treatment for AKI or AKF usually starts with treating the root cause of the kidney injury. It’s important to make your health a priority during this time. If you are diagnosed with AKI or AKF, be sure to follow all medical instructions exactly as your doctor directs.

After diagnosis, your doctor may decide:

  • You need dialysis for a little while—to help your body remove toxins, waste, and excess fluid from your blood.

  • Your medication regimen needs to be carefully monitored or adjusted—especially if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, or if you are taking medications that can be harmful to your kidneys. Some medications may slow your kidneys’ ability to heal, so take all medications as prescribed and report any new prescription to your doctor and care team.
  • Urine tracker download
    You need to track certain health factors daily—factors such as weight loss and increased urine output may be signs that your kidney function is returning. Use our daily tracker to make notes to share with your care team.


Some medications may be harmful for people with AKI or AKF—especially if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what to avoid or adjust.


Monitoring Your Health With AKI

You can help your care team monitor your health during AKI treatment by telling them about any changes you experience day to day.

Track these health factors daily and report them to your care team:

  • Urine output—If you notice any change in the amount of urine you’re making, tell your care team. Make note of how many times you urinate throughout the day and the amount, so you can compare your urine output from day to day.
  • Weight—Weigh yourself daily and report to your care team. For accuracy, weigh yourself every day at the same time, wearing similar clothes and shoes.
  • Blood pressureTake and record your blood pressure each day, then share your results with your care team.
  • New symptoms—Report any new symptoms you experience, such as: fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, swelling, or changes in appetite or mood.
  • Medications—Tell your care team immediately if any of your doctors prescribe new medication, change your dose for an existing medication, or schedule a procedure that requires using a contrast dye (like a CT or MRI scan).


Weight loss and increased urine output may be signs your kidney function is returning. Print and fill out this handy tracker, then share it with your care team.
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