Trauma to the back, flank, or abdomen due to an accident or assault can cause serious injury to the kidneys. These types of injuries require medical intervention and potentially lead to long-term complications, loss of an organ, or even death. Kidney injury is frequently the result of car accidents, slips and falls, sports injuries, and industrial accidents.
If you think that you or a family member may be suffering from a kidney injury, it’s vital to seek medical attention immediately. The odds of saving the kidneys and reducing long-term complications are higher the earlier treatment begins.
What Is a Kidney Injury?
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in the back of the abdomen that are essential for sustaining life. Situated on either side of the spinal column, they are protected by a layer of back muscle and the ribcage. Two tiny tubes called ureters connect the kidneys to the bladder. The kidneys work to:
- Filter waste from the blood
- Regulate blood pressure
- Balance red blood cell count
- Maintain fluid balance in the body
- Control electrolyte levels
The kidneys clean approximately 150 quarts of blood and produce one to two quarts of urine each day. When they are injured or lose their blood supply, the kidneys are no longer able to perform these necessary functions. Serious and sometimes fatal health complications can arise.
How Do Kidney Injuries Occur?
Kidney trauma is caused by blunt or penetrating trauma to the stomach, back, or side. Blunt trauma occurs when an object makes impact with these areas of the body but doesn’t break the skin. A direct blow to the body may damage or rupture the kidney. Blunt force trauma can happen when a person hits the interior of a vehicle or is thrown forward during a car accident with enough force. This is especially true for smaller adults and children.
Penetrating trauma results in damage to the kidney caused by an object that punctures the skin and hits the organ or surrounding structures. In addition to motor vehicle accidents, kidney trauma can be caused by:
- Slips and falls
- Athletic injuries
- Blunt force trauma with a heavy object
- Bicycle and motorcycle accidents
- Industrial accidents
- Crush injuries
- Knife wounds
- Gunshot wounds
Kidney injuries are rated on a five-point grading scale, with one indicating minor bruising to the kidney. A five-point rating means that the blood supply to the kidney has been completely cut off, compromising the organ.
What Are the Complications From Trauma to the Kidneys?
Acute kidney injury (AKI), or acute renal failure, is the main complication resulting from trauma to the kidneys. AKI causes a build up of water, sodium, and other metabolic products in the blood, occurring within a few hours or days of the trauma. Without the kidneys filtering waste from the blood and producing urine, the body cannot maintain proper fluid balance. Left untreated, AKI can cause damage to the brain, heart, and lungs.
Signs that someone may be suffering from AKI include:
- Decreased urine output/difficulty urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and tissue around the eyes
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Severe abdominal pain
- Bruising of the abdomen
- Chest pain or pressure
- Lower back pain
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea and vomiting
Unless AKI is treated promptly, the patient is at risk for life-threatening complications like potassium imbalance that cause muscle weakness, paralysis, and heart arrhythmias, pulmonary edema, metabolic acidosis, and chronic kidney disease or failure.
What Is the Treatment for Acute Kidney Injury?
Treatment for AKI typically requires hospitalization so that the patient can be closely monitored. In some cases, dialysis is used to take over kidney function until the organ can heal or be repaired. Depending on the severity of the injury and whether only one or both kidneys were damaged, a kidney transplant could be necessary.
Your doctor may use the following tools to diagnose you with an acute kidney injury:
- Computerized tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Urine analysis
- Blood tests
- Biopsy of the kidney
AKI is very common in patients who have been hospitalized for other injuries. For example, a patient admitted to the ICU for injuries sustained in an accident may later also require treatment for AKI. As many as 67% of patients in the ICU go on to develop AKI, and 95% of nephrology consultations in hospitals are linked to acute kidney injuries.
Unfortunately, health care professionals may have to delay treatment for other conditions or injuries you’ve sustained while they work to resolve the AKI. There is the potential for a missed or late diagnosis and health complications from delayed medical interventions.
What Is the Long-Term Prognosis for Someone Diagnosed With Acute Kidney Injury?
AKI is usually reversible. However, following an AKI diagnosis, you are at increased risk for developing kidney disease, stroke, heart disease, or a recurrence of AKI. The more often you are diagnosed with an acute kidney injury, the higher your chances that AKI will develop into chronic kidney disease or failure.
If you experienced severe blood loss or the kidney’s blood supply was compromised, you may require surgery to repair the kidney and preserve function. In some situations, the kidney is too badly damaged and requires removal. You can live with one kidney, but the remaining kidney will have to work harder to filter waste for the remainder of your life.
While you are recovering from AKI, you will be monitored in the hospital until there is no more blood in your urine. After being discharged, you should pay close attention to any bleeding or a spike in blood pressure, which may be signs that your kidney has sustained permanent damage. Common problems following treatment for AKI include:
- Leaking urine
- Delayed bleeding
- Development of an abscess or infection
- High blood pressure
Kidney trauma and acute kidney injury can result in decreased kidney function and lifelong disability, requiring intensive and costly medical care such as surgical intervention and a kidney transplant.
Now that you understand the risks associated with a kidney injury, make sure to protect your health and seek care if needed. If you’ve suffered a kidney injury due negligence, an accident, or an assault, consult a personal injury lawyer.