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Acute Kidney Injury

The kidney disease team at UC San Diego Health is actively involved in advancing research in acute kidney injury to define the genetic basis of ongoing drug-induced kidney injury and uncover genetic factors that may help with early detection.

About Acute Kidney Injury

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a sudden loss of kidney function (less than two days). It can lead to an increased risk of illness and death.

The rate of AKI has increased in recent years. This is a result of more people having risk factors that predispose them to AKI — which includes older age, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Each year, acute kidney injury affects 1.2 million hospitalized patients and two-thirds of people in intensive care units.

Roughly 30 percent of patients with AKI never fully recover their kidney function. This has led to an increase in cases of chronic kidney disease.

Causes of Acute Kidney Injury

Acute kidney injury can result from:

  • Kidney damage
    Examples of direct damage to kidneys that can lead to AKI include sepsis, scleroderma, acute glomerulonephritis, vasculitis and multiple myeloma.
  • Obstruction in the urinary tract
    Urinary tract blockages can be caused by kidney stones, an enlarged prostate, blood clots in the urinary tract, or cancer of the bladder, cervix or prostate.
  • Reduced blood flow to the kidneys
    Decreased blood flow can result from severe allergic reactions, major surgery, heart attack, low blood pressure, organ failure, or the use of NSAIDS (e.g., ibuprofen).

AKI Symptoms

If you have acute kidney injury, you may notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Bloody stools
  • Hand tremor
  • Seizures
  • Changes in urination
  • Breath odor (metallic taste)
  • Mood changes
  • Swelling (usually in ankles, feet and legs)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea

AKI Diagnosis

Acute kidney injury may not be apparent upon initial evaluation.

Our team may determine further testing for AKI is necessary if body swelling and abnormal chest sounds (e.g., crackle in lungs) are present.

Tests we may use to diagnose AKI include:

Acute kidney injury is determined when there is:

  • Reduction in urine output
  • Elevated serum creatinine level
  • Need for renal replacement (dialysis)

For diagnosing a blockage in the urinary tract, a kidney or abdominal ultrasound is preferred.

Appointments & Referrals

Clinic Locations

La Jolla


Nephrology Specialists