Acute renal failure (ARF) is the abrupt deterioration of renal function that results in the accumulation of fluids, electrolytes, and metabolic waste products. It is usually accompanied by a marked decrease in urinary output. Although ARF is often reversible, if it is ignored or inappropriately treated, it can lead to irreversible kidney damage and chronic renal failure. Two types of ARF occur: community- and hospital-acquired. Community-acquired ARF is diagnosed in about 1% of hospital admissions at the time of initial assessment. In comparison, hospitalacquired ARF occurs in up to 4% of hospital admissions and 20% of critical care admissions. There are many reasons for this increased incidence of hospital-acquired ARF, and they include an aging population, the use of nephrotoxic medications, and increasing severity of illness in hospitalized patients.
Approximately 70% of patients develop oliguric ARF with a urine output 500 mL/day. The other 30% of patients never develop oliguria and have what is considered nonoliguric renal failure. Oliguric ARF generally has three stages. During the initial phase (often called the oliguric phase), when trauma or insult affects the kidney tissue, the patient becomes oliguric. This stage may last a week or more. The second stage of ARF is the diuretic phase, which is heralded by a doubling of the urinary output from the previous 24 hours. During the diuretic phase, patients may produce as much as 5 L of urine in 24 hours but lack the ability for urinary concentration and regulation of waste products. This phase can last from 1 to several weeks. The final stage, the recovery phase, is characterized by a return to a normal urinary output (about 1500 to 1800 mL/24 hr), with a gradual improvement in metabolic waste removal. Some patients take up to a year to recover full renal function after the initial insult.
Complications of ARF include severe electrolyte imbalances such as hyperkalemia and hypocalcemia. The patient is also at risk for secondary infections, congestive heart failure, and pericarditis. ARF that does not respond to treatment of the underlying cause can progress to chronic renal failure.
The causes of ARF can be classified as prerenal, intrarenal (intrinsic), and postrenal. Prerenal ARF results from conditions that cause diminished blood flow to the kidneys. Disorders that can lead to prerenal failure include cardiovascular disorders (dysrhythmias, cardiogenic shock, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction), disorders that cause hypovolemia (burns, trauma, dehydration, hemorrhage), maldistribution of blood (septic shock, anaphylactic shock), renal artery obstruction, and severe vasoconstriction. Intrarenal, or intrinsic, ARF involves the actual destruction of the renal parenchyma (functional cells). The most common cause of intrarenal failure is acute tubular necrosis, or damage to the renal tubules because of either a nephrotoxic or an ischemic injury. Nephrotoxic injuries occur when the renal tubules are exposed to a high concentration of a toxic chemical. Common sources of nephrotoxic injuries include antibiotics (aminoglycosides, sulfonamides), diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), and contrast media from diagnostic tests. Ischemic injuries occur when the mean arterial blood pressure is less than 60 mm Hg for 40 to 60 minutes. Situations that can lead to ischemic injuries include cardiopulmonary arrest, hypovolemic or hemorrhagic shock, cardiogenic shock, or severe hypotension.
Postrenal (postobstructive) ARF is caused by a blockage to urine outflow. One of the most common causes of postrenal ARF in hospitalized patients is an obstructed Foley catheter. Other conditions that can lead to postrenal ARF include ureteral inflammation or obstruction, accidental ligation of the ureters, bladder obstruction (infection, anticholinergic drug use, tumors,
trauma leading to bladder rupture), or urethral obstruction (prostate enlargement, urethral trauma, urethral strictures).
Nursing care plan assessment and physical examination
When you elicit the patient’s history, look for a disorder that can lead to prerenal, intrarenal, or postrenal ARF. Question the patient about recent illnesses, infections, or injuries, and take a careful medication history with attention to maximum daily doses and selfmedication patterns. Determine the patient’s urinary patterns and document information such as frequency of voiding, approximate voiding volume, and pattern of daily fluid intake. Evaluate the patient for a recent history of gastrointestinal (GI) problems, such as anorexia, nausea, and changes in bowel patterns. Some patients have a recent history of weight gain, edema, headache, confusion, and sleepiness.
The patient appears seriously ill and often drowsy, irritable, confused, and combative because of the accumulation of metabolic wastes. In the oliguric phase, the patient may show signs of fluid overload such as hypertension, rapid heart rate, peripheral edema, and crackles when you listen to the lungs. Patients in the diuretic phase appear dehydrated, with dry mucous membranes, poor skin turgor, flat neck veins, and orthostatic hypotension. The patient may have increased bleeding tendencies, such as petechiae, ecchymosis of the skin, and bloody vomitus (hematemesis).
The patient with ARF may be highly anxious because of the unknown outcome of the problem. Anxiety may increase as symptoms such as hemorrhage or pain from an obstructing calculus appear. Because ARF may occur as an iatrogenic problem (a problem caused by the treatment of a disease), you may need to explain to the patient or significant others that the problem was not avoidable and is a potential complication of the underlying disorder.
Nursing care plan primary nursing diagnosis: Fluid volume deficit related to excessive urinary output, vomiting, hemorrhage.
Nursing care plan intervention and treatment plan
During the oliguric-anuric stage, diuretic therapy with furosemide (Lasix) or ethacrynic acid (Edecrin) may be attempted to convert oliguric ARF to nonoliguric ARF, which has a better renal recovery rate. During the diuretic phase, fluid volume replacement may be ordered to compensate for the fluid loss and to maintain adequate arterial blood flow to the kidneys. A daily record of intake, output, and weights assists the physician in making treatment decisions. During fluid replacement, monitoring with central venous pressures or pulmonary artery catheters helps track the patient’s response to interventions. The physician should be notified if the patient’s urine output drops below 0.5 mL/kg per hour or if the daily weight changes by more than 2 kg (4.4 lb).
Electrolyte replacement is based on the patient’s serum electrolyte values. The physician attempts to limit hyperkalemia because of its potentially lethal effects on cardiac function. Note the excretory route for medications so that the already damaged kidneys are not further damaged by nephrotoxins. The patient’s response to medications is important; drug dosages may need to be decreased because of decreased renal excretion. In addition, timing of medications may need to be changed because of increased excretion during dialysis.
Hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, or alternative dialysis methods may be used to manage ARF. Indications for dialysis include fluid overload, hyperkalemia, metabolic acidosis, uremic intoxication, and the need to remove nephrotoxic substances such as metabolites or drugs. The diet for the patient with ARF is usually high in carbohydrates to prevent protein breakdown and low in protein to provide essential amino acids but to limit increases in azotemia (increased urea in the body). For patients who lose sodium in the urine, the diet is high in sodium; for patients with sodium and water retention, the diet is low in sodium and may also contain a fluid restriction. Potassium restrictions are frequently ordered, based on laboratory values.
Rest and recovery are important nursing goals. By limiting an increased metabolic rate, the nurse limits tissue breakdown and decreases nitrogenous waste production. A quiet, well-organized environment at a temperature comfortable for the patient ensures rest and recovery. To help the patient deal with fluid restrictions, use creative strategies to increase the patient’s comfort and compliance. Give medications with meals or in minimal IV volumes to maximize the amount of fluid available for patient use.
Several factors place the patient with ARF at risk for impaired skin integrity. Uremia results in itching and dryness of the skin. If the patient experiences pruritus, help the patient clip the fingernails short and keep the nail tips smooth. Use skin emollients liberally, avoid harsh soaps, and bathe the patient only when necessary. Frequent turning and range-of motion exercises assist in preventing skin breakdown. If the patient is taking medications that cause frequent stools, clean the perineum and buttocks frequently to maintain skin integrity.
Note that one of the most common sources of postrenal ARF is an obstructed urinary catheter drainage system. Before contacting the physician about a decreasing urinary output in an acutely or critically ill patient, make sure that the catheter is patent. If institutional policy permits, irrigate the Foley catheter using sterile technique with 30 mL of normal saline to check for obstruction. Note any kinks in the collecting system. If institutional policy permits, replace the indwelling Foley catheter with a new catheter and urinary drainage system to ensure it is functioning adequately. Signs that postrenal ARF is caused by obstruction in the urinary catheter include a sudden cessation of urinary output in a patient whose urinary output has previously been high or average and a urinary output with normal specific gravity and normal urinary sodium.
The patient with ARF is often irritable and confused. Recognize that the irritability is part of the disease process. Keep the environment free of unnecessary clutter to reduce the chance of falls. If the patient is on bedrest, maintain the bed in the low position and keep the side rails up. Keep the patient’s call light within easy reach and the patient’s belongings on a bedside table close to the bed. The patient with ARF is anxious, not only because of the ambiguity of the prognosis but also because he or she may be in an acute care environment for treatment. Provide the patient with ongoing, repeated information about what is happening and why. Ongoing reassurance
for both the patient and the significant others is essential.
Nursing care plan discharge and home health care guidelines
All patients with ARF need an understanding of renal function, signs and symptoms of renal failure, and how to monitor their own renal function. Patients who have recovered viable renal function still need to be monitored by a nephrologist for at least a year. Teach the patient that she or he may be more susceptible to infection than previously. Advise daily weight checks. Emphasize rest to prevent overexertion. Teach the patient or significant others about all medications, including dosage, potential side effects, and drug interactions. Explain that the patient should tell the healthcare professional about the medications if the patient needs treatment such as dental work or if a new medication is added. Explain that ongoing medical assessment is required to check renal function. Explain all dietary and fluid restrictions. Note if the restrictions are life-long or temporary. Patients who have not recovered viable renal function need to understand that their condition may persist and even become chronic. If chronic renal failure is suspected, further outpatient treatment and monitoring are needed. Discuss with significant others the lifestyle changes that may be required with chronic renal failure.