What Causes Acute Kidney Injury (Acute Renal Failure)?

The loss of kidney function is called acute kidney injury, also known as acute renal failure (ARF). This can occur following a traumatic injury with blood loss, the sudden reduction of blood flow to the kidneys, damage to the kidneys from shock during a severe infection called sepsis, obstruction of urine flow, or damage from certain drugs or toxins.

Acute kidney injury can also occur from pregnancy complications, such as eclampsia and pre-eclampsia, or related HELLP Syndrome (a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of pre-eclampsia).

Marathon runners and other athletes who don't drink enough fluids while competing in long-distance endurance events may suffer acute renal failure due to a sudden breakdown of muscle tissue. This muscle breakdown releases a chemical called myoglobin that can damage the kidneys.

Patients with an enlarged prostate often encounter an obstructed urine flow which can also lead to an acute kidney injury. 

What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?

Kidney damage and decreased function that lasts longer than 3 months is called chronic kidney disease (CKD). Chronic kidney disease is particularly dangerous, because you may not have any symptoms until considerable, often irreparable, kidney damage has been done.

Diabetes (Types 1 and 2) and high blood pressure (hypertension) are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Other causes of kidney disease are:

  • Immune System Conditions: Such as lupus and chronic viral illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
  • Severe Infection: Within the kidneys themselves, called pyelonephritis, can lead to scarring as the infection heals. Multiple episodes can lead to kidney damage.
  • Inflammation in the Glomeruli (tiny filters in the kidneys): This can happen after strep infection and other conditions of unknown cause. 
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease: Fluid-filled cysts form in the kidneys over time. This is the most common form of inherited kidney disease.
  • Congenital Defects at Birth: Often the result of a urinary tract obstruction or malformation that affects the kidneys. One of the most common involves a valve-like mechanism between the bladder and urethra. These defects, sometimes found while a baby is still in the womb, can often be surgically repaired by a urologist.
  • Drugs and Toxins: Including long-term exposure to some medications and chemicals; overuse of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen; and use of intravenous “street” drugs.