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Local Kidney Specialist to Discuss Acute Kidney Injury at Upcoming Free Seminar

February 19, 2013

Of all the human body's essential organs, our kidneys are among the workhorses. Called powerful chemical factories by the National Kidney Foundation, the kidneys are each about the size of a fist and are located on either side of the spine at the lowest level of the rib cage.

Your kidneys help to sustain life by filtering and returning about 200 quarts of fluid to your bloodstream every day. Two of these quarts are excreted as urine to remove waste products and excess fluid. The rest is recovered by your body.

"The kidneys have three basic functions," said Varun Chawla, M.D., a Fremont nephrologist (kidney specialist) who is on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "They filter the blood of waste products, remove excess salt from the blood, and maintain the overall water balance in the body.

In recognition of World Kidney Day 2013, Dr. Chawla will lead a free community seminar on Acute Kidney Injury (AKI), previously known as acute renal failure. The forum will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 26, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A and B, located in the Washington West building near Washington Hospital at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. To reserve your spot, go online to www.whhs.com, click on Community Connection and select Community Seminars, Health Classes and Events, or call (800) 963-7070.

"AKI is a rapid decline in kidney function, when the kidneys suddenly stop working," explained Dr. Chawla. "There are a number of causes, but we most commonly see it occur in patients who are acutely ill and hospitalized, especially in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit)."

The National Kidney Foundation reports that recent research indicates a sharp increase in cases of AKI in the U.S. over the last ten years. The Foundation is working to increase public awareness about AKI and to encourage everyone to learn about their risk factors to help prevent kidney damage.

At the seminar on Feb. 26, Dr. Chawla will talk about the causes, symptoms and treatments for AKI. He'll explain how the condition occurs when blood flow to the kidneys decreases. This can happen when someone is severely dehydrated or has heart failure, so the heart is not pumping enough blood to reach the kidneys. Other possible causes of AKI include certain antibiotic medications and some autoimmune diseases in which the body attacks itself, such as with the autoimmune disease lupus. For some patients, if the pathway of urine as it leaves the body gets blocked, this can also contribute to AKI. Blockages most often are due to prostate problems in men or cancer in women.

People who have chronic kidney disease, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure, are at higher risk from AKI.

"If you already have underlying kidney disease, you are more prone to suffering AKI," added Dr. Chawla. "That's because you have a lower reserve to help fight serious kidney problems, and this increases the chances that acute injury will occur."

Treatment for AKI is based on the underlying cause. So, if the patient is severely dehydrated, the treatment plan is to treat the dehydration. If the AKI is due to heart failure, doctors treat that condition. If there is an obstruction to the flow of urine, a bypass is created to open the flow of urine out of the body. If the patient has an autoimmune disease, the treatment plan includes immunosuppressant medication to curb the body's immune system.

"Along with attempting to reverse the underlying cause of AKI, the treatment of AKI is largely supportive, including adjusting medications and correcting volume status and electrolytes," stated Dr. Chawla.

"In severe cases," Dr. Chawla continued. "Dialysis may be required temporarily until the problem is resolved. If damage to the kidney is extensive and cannot be reversed, the patient may have to go on dialysis for the long term."

"It is critical to identify AKI as early as possible, as the condition can be life-threatening and increases the likelihood that permanent kidney damage will occur," concluded Dr. Chawla. "At the seminar, we'll talk about the warning signs of AKI. This is something everyone should know so we can have a better chance of catching the condition early before kidney damage is irreversible."

Learn more

To learn more about Acute Kidney Injury, go to the Web site of the National Kidney Foundation at www.kidney.org and search for "acute kidney injury." To find out more about Washington Hospital or to see a complete list of its upcoming free community seminars, visit www.whhs.com.