Acute renal failure in children: aetiology and management

G Filler
Paediatric Drugs 2001, 3 (11): 783-92
This review evaluates the various causes and management of acute renal failure (ARF) in children. ARF is defined as an abrupt decline in the renal regulation of water, electrolytes and acid-base balance, and continues to be an important factor contributing to the morbidity and mortality of critically ill infants and children. The common causes of ARF in children include acute tubular necrosis secondary to various causes (including congestive heart failure and sepsis), haemolytic uremic syndrome, and glomerulonephritis and urinary tract obstruction. Ischaemia, toxins (including drugs) as well as primary parenchymal disease, have to be considered and ARF can also be a complication of systemic disease. The basic principles of management are avoidance of life-threatening complications, maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance, and nutritional support. Only a few patients require specific management of the underlying disorder, although it is important to diagnose these conditions. Knowledge about the use of drugs for the prevention of ARF is scarce. Mannitol, low-dose dopamine, calcium channel antagonists, atrial natriuretic peptide and albumin have been evaluated and, where possible, meta-analyses are cited. Mannitol treatment appears to be warranted prophylactically after paediatric renal transplantation. Albumin infusion can reverse prerenal ARF in children with nephritic syndrome. For treatment of the complications of hyperkalaemia and volume overload, salbutamol, insulin and glucose infusion and diuretics such as furosemide and sodium bicarbonate, are discussed. All of the major dialysis modalities (peritoneal dialysis, haemodialysis and continuous haemofiltration) can be used to provide equivalent solute clearance and ultrafiltration. The indication for, and the choice of the modality depend on the patient requirements and on local resources, and should involve the care of a paediatric nephrologist. Peritoneal dialysis requires minimal equipment and infrastructure, is easy to perform and remains the favoured modality of renal replacement therapy in children. However, continuous haemofiltration is an excellent alternative to peritoneal dialysis in patients with ARF and severe fluid overload. Dialysis remains the most important tool to bridge the time needed for recovery of renal function. There is increasing evidence that more intense use of dialysis may improve the overall prognosis.

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