Some treatments for acute renal failure include vasopressors, diuretics, and short-term dialysis. Healthcare professionals may also refer to the condition as acute kidney injury.

Doctors may define acute renal failure as a sudden loss of or decline in kidney function. When it occurs, a person will require treatment to help prevent permanent damage and loss of function in their kidneys.

Several treatment options may help with acute kidney injury. This article reviews some commonly prescribed treatment options as well as their potential benefits and risks.

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Several medications people take to treat a variety of health conditions may contribute to kidney damage. Doctors may refer to these medications as nephrotoxic drugs. Healthcare professionals may prescribe them to help treat pain in people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions.

If a person develops acute kidney injury, a doctor will assess their current medications. If any causes kidney damage, the doctor will likely decrease the dosage they prescribe or have the person stop taking the medication.

Benefits and risks

Discontinuing potentially harmful medications can help a person’s kidneys recover.

However, a doctor will likely need to monitor the underlying condition the person took the medications for. They may reduce the dose or provide alternative, kidney-safe options if available.

A person should never stop taking a medication or adjust their dosage without a doctor’s approval.

Dialysis is a medical procedure that uses a machine to filter a person’s blood. Doctors may recommend dialysis for a person with acute kidney injury until their kidney function returns to a typical level.

One of the primary functions of a person’s kidneys is to filter their blood.

Benefits and risks

Dialysis can help filter the blood while a person’s kidneys are not functioning as they should. It can also help prevent further complications of acute kidney failure, including:

A person often only requires dialysis for a few days to weeks, but some people may require several months of therapy.

Infections commonly occur during dialysis. Severe infections can occur in some cases. People receiving dialysis may develop:

Fluid levels can play an important role in acute kidney damage. Doctors may need to increase or decrease the amount of liquid in a person’s blood.

In some cases, doctors may recommend diuretics to help reduce fluid levels.

If a person’s fluid levels are too low, a doctor may introduce additional fluids through an intravenous (IV) line.

Benefits and risks

Loop diuretics are a subtype of diuretic medication that work by interfering with the transport of salt and water across cells in the kidneys.

According to research cited in a 2020 study, loop diuretics may increase the risk of mortality and hearing or balance issues if a person takes them in high doses.

Several factors and health conditions can cause or lead to acute renal failure, including a sudden decrease in blood pressure, typically in cases of septic shock.

Vasopressors are medications that help increase a person’s blood pressure by narrowing the blood vessels. Research suggests that doctors will aim to raise someone’s blood pressure to a minimum of 65 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

Doctors often prescribe noradrenaline as a first-line therapy, but they may also suggest vasopressin and terlipressin as secondary options.

Benefits and risks

Vasopressors help raise blood pressure, which helps prevent damage to the kidneys following a sudden drop in blood pressure.

However, healthcare professionals warn that vasopressors have the potential to narrow the blood vessels excessively. This can lead to:

Doctors may recommend a person makes modifications to their diet while recovering from acute renal failure.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends a person takes the following steps toward a kidney-friendly diet:

  • Limit salt: Most processed foods and prepared foods contain a lot of salt, which manufacturers label as sodium. A person should consider reducing the amount of processed foods they eat, including canned soups and microwave meals, and limit the amount of salt they add to homemade meals.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods: These include lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and low fat dairy products. A person should avoid deep-fried foods and bake, roast, boil, or grill them instead.
  • Limit proteins: A person may need to reduce their total protein consumption. This is because protein digestion in the body creates waste that the kidneys need to remove. Limiting protein in the diet may help to reduce the strain on a person’s kidneys.
  • Limit foods containing phosphorus and potassium: When the kidneys do not process a person’s blood correctly, both potassium and phosphorus levels can become too high. This can lead to issues with the heart, itchy skin, joint pain, and bone pain. Limiting the consumption of foods or supplements that contain these minerals may help prevent them from building up in the body while the kidneys recover.

Benefits and risks

Making dietary changes can help reduce the strain on the kidneys as they recover from acute kidney injury.

Before making changes to their diet, a person should discuss their intended diet changes with a healthcare professional in order to make sure the changes are appropriate for them. Each individual will have different dietary requirements due to factors such as underlying health conditions and any medications they may be taking.

Doctors treat acute renal failure with several methods, which will depend on the person’s individual circumstances.

Treatments may involve discontinuing certain medications, managing fluid levels and electrolytes, and short-term dialysis. A person may need additional treatments to address any complications associated with acute renal failure.

People should speak with a healthcare professional about which treatments may work best for them. A doctor can also advise how to help prevent strain on the kidneys while they recover.