Acute kidney injury, previously known as acute renal failure, encompasses a wide spectrum of injury to the kidneys, not just kidney failure. The definition of acute kidney injury has changed in recent years, and detection is now mostly based on monitoring creatinine levels, with or without urine output. Acute kidney injury is increasingly being seen in primary care in people without any acute illness, and awareness of the condition needs to be raised among primary care health professionals.

Acute kidney injury is seen in 13–18% of all people admitted to hospital, with older adults being particularly affected. These patients are usually under the care of healthcare professionals practising in specialties other than nephrology, who may not always be familiar with the optimum care of patients with acute kidney injury. The number of inpatients affected by acute kidney injury means that it has a major impact on healthcare resources. The costs to the NHS of acute kidney injury (excluding costs in the community) are estimated to be between £434 million and £620 million per year, which is more than the costs associated with breast cancer, or lung and skin cancer combined.

There have been concerns that suboptimal care may contribute to the development of acute kidney injury. In 2009, the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD)[1] reported the results of an enquiry into the deaths of a large group of adult patients with acute kidney injury. This described systemic deficiencies in the care of patients who died from acute kidney injury: only 50% of these patients had received 'good' care. Other deficiencies in the care of patients who died of acute kidney injury included failures in acute kidney injury prevention, recognition, therapy and timely access to specialist services. This report led to the Department of Health's request for NICE to develop its first guideline on acute kidney injury in adults and also, importantly, in children and young people.

This guideline emphasises early intervention and stresses the importance of risk assessment and prevention, early recognition and treatment. It is primarily aimed at the non‑specialist clinician, who will care for most patients with acute kidney injury in a variety of settings. The recommendations aim to address known and unacceptable variations in recognition, assessment, initial treatment and referral for renal replacement therapy. The inpatient mortality of acute kidney injury varies considerably, depending on its severity, setting (intensive care or not), and many other patient‑related factors, but in the UK might typically be 25–30% or more. In view of its frequency and mortality rate, prevention or amelioration of just 20% of cases of acute kidney injury would prevent a large number of deaths and substantially reduce complications and their associated costs.

The guideline will assume that prescribers will use a drug's summary of product characteristics to inform decisions made with individual patients.

[1] National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (2009) Acute kidney injury: adding insult to injury.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)