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Lawnwood Regional Medical Center

Acute Tubular Necrosis


Acute tubular necrosis is damage to the tubule cells (tiny tube-shaped cells) in the kidney that results in acute kidney failure. This is a potentially serious condition that requires medical care.

Anatomy of the Kidney
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Acute tubular necrosis can be caused by:

  • Lack of oxygen to kidney tissues from problems such as blood clots, surgical complications, severe dehydration, or heavy bleeding
  • Exposure to toxic materials such as antibiotics, IV contrast material used for imaging, or anesthetics

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of acute tubular necrosis include:

  • Injury
  • Trauma
  • Surgery
  • Blood transfusion
  • Septic shock
  • Shock
  • Low blood pressure
  • Liver disease or damage
  • Certain medications, such as aminoglycosides, amphotericin B, cyclosporine, or tacrolimus
  • Injections of IV contrast material used for imaging studies, such as CT scans
  • Blood transfusion reaction
  • Exposure or build up of toxic chemicals, such as:
    • Crystals (uric acid, calcium phosphate)
    • Myoglobin
    • Hemoglobin


Acute tubular necrosis may cause:

  • Change in urine output
  • General swelling, fluid retention
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Kidney biopsy

Images may be taken of the kidneys and surrounding structures. This can be done with:


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will focus on treating the conditions that are causing damage. Good nutrition and proper fluid intake will also help reduce stress on the kidneys during recovery. Treatment options may also include:


Dialysis is a process that uses a machine to assist or take over the work of your kidneys. The blood flows from catheters to a machine that removes wastes and returns it back to the body.


Certain medications may reduce the need for dialysis in some people.


Acute tubular necrosis is sometimes the result of an accident. If you have kidney disease or a history of kidney problems, follow your doctor's instructions after surgical procedures or imaging tests that required injections of contrast.

Revision Information

  • Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  • Health Canada

  • Kidney Foundation of Canada

  • Acute tubular necrosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated February 12, 2016. Accessed June 1, 2016.

  • Choudhury D, Ahmed Z. Drug-associated renal dysfunction and injury. Nat Clin Pract Nephrol. 2006;2(2):80-91

  • Esson ML, Schrier RW. Diagnosis and treatment of acute tubular necrosis. Ann Intern Med. 2002;137(9):744-52.

  • Gill N, Nally JV Jr, Fatica RA. Renal failure secondary to acute tubular necrosis: Epidemiology, diagnosis, and management. Chest. 2005;128(4):2847-2863.

  • Musso CG, Liakopoulos V, Ioannidis I, Eleftheriadis T, Stefanidis I. Acute renal failure in the elderly: Particular characteristics. Int Urol Nephrol. 2006;38(3-4):787-793.

  • Tepel M, van der Giet M, Schwarzfeld C, Laufer U, Liermann D, Zidek W. Prevention of radiographic-contrast reductions in renal function by acetylcysteine. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(3):1448-1457.