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Types of Renal Failure

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/25/2011

Medical professionals refer to renal failure as chronic or acute. Doctors also classify chronic kidney failure as prerenal, renal and postrenal. These classifications give medical professionals more information about each patient.

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    Acute Renal Failure

    Acute renal failure refers to kidney failure that develops very suddenly. This leads to kidney dysfunction, resulting in an inability of the kidneys to produce concentrated urine and remove waste products from the blood. This condition has a number of causes.

    • Autoimmune kidney disease
    • Very low blood pressure caused by shock, dehydration, injury, surgery, serious illness and burns
    • Severe kidney infections
    • Conditions that damage the blood vessels leading to the kidneys
    • Urinary system obstruction
    • Pregnancy complications

    This type of kidney failure causes several symptoms. A patient with acute renal failure may experience high blood pressure, easy bruising, fatigue, flank pain, fluid retention (swelling), decreased urination, excessive urination during the night, decreased appetite and breath odor. Medical professionals use several blood and urine tests to diagnose this condition. The basic metabolic panel tells doctors if waste products have built up in the bloodstream. This test also reveals abnormal levels of electrolytes like sodium and potassium. MRI, CR scans and abdominal x-rays can reveal urinary tract obstructions, while ultrasound can reveal other causes of acute renal failure. The treatment for this condition depends on the cause of the kidney failure. In some cases, patients with this condition undergo hemodialysis, a process that filters the blood with a machine to prevent dangerous increases in waste products and electrolytes.

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    Chronic Renal Failure

    Chronic renal failure refers to the slow loss of kidney function over a long period of time. Instead of developing quickly, this type of renal failure develops slowly. While both types of kidney failure are serious, chronic renal failure poses a different set of challenges than the acute form of this condition. Chronic kidney failure leads to shrinking and scarring of the kidneys, which leads to long-term kidney problems. Doctors refer to this type of renal failure as prerenal, renal and postrenal. Prerenal kidney failure occurs due to inadequate blood flow to the kidneys. This renders the kidneys unable to filter waste products from the blood. This type of kidney failure occurs due to heart failure, severe blood loss, severe infection and dehydration.

    Renal kidney failure occurs due to direct kidney damage. Causes of this condition include inflammation of the kidney filtering units, use of toxic medications, severe systemic infections, crush injuries, burns and trauma. Post-renal kidney failure occurs due to obstruction of urine flow. This type of obstruction occurs due to tumors that block the urinary tract, urinary obstructions, large kidney stones and prostate cancer that blocks the flow of urine. Symptoms of chronic renal failure include fatigue, dry skin, itching, nausea, weight loss, headaches and loss of appetite.

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    References

    MedlinePlus: Acute Kidney Failure

    Nephrology Channel: Chronic Renal Failure Overview

    MedicineNet: Kidney Failure Symptoms

    MedlinePlus: Chronic Kidney Disease

    MayoClinic.com: Kidney Failure, Acute

    New York Times: Acute Kidney Failure

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