Trauma is the leading cause of hospitalization worldwide, and auto accidents are a major contributor to this trend. Devastating injuries such as kidney damage are a frequent complication following a traumatic accident where there is significant deceleration.
Normally, your kidneys are protected by your back muscles and lower ribcage. But blunt trauma or penetrative trauma from a car accident can damage these vital organs and leave you with serious complications referred to as acute kidney injury (AKI).
What Is Acute Kidney Injury?
Also known as acute renal failure, an AKI is a sudden event that triggers kidney damage or kidney failure. An auto accident could cause a penetrative injury, severe contusion, or tearing to one or both kidneys.
AKI also occurs when there’s a build-up of waste products in the blood, making it difficult for the kidneys to filter and process. This backlog of tainted blood may then affect other organs such as the lungs, heart, and brain.
Signs and Symptoms of Acute Kidney Injury
Signs that you may have suffered damage to your kidneys after a car accident may include the following:
- Little to no urine leaving the body
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Bruising, aching, or tenderness over the back or abdomen (including seat belt marks)
- Muscle spasms
- Lower rib fractures
- Swelling around the eyes, legs, and ankles
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Seizures or coma
In some cases, AKI does not cause any obvious symptoms and can only be discovered through tests performed by a healthcare provider. This is yet another reason why you should always go to the doctor after an accident; they may be able to detect internal injuries that would otherwise be missed.
How Does a Doctor Determine If You Have an Acute Kidney Injury?
There are various tests a doctor may run depending on the severity of your injury. It is important to receive a diagnosis as soon as possible to avoid negative outcomes such as chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. In certain circumstances, AKI can lead to heart disease or death.
The following tests may be performed to determine whether you have AKI:
- Urine output measurements to help find the cause of your AKI.
- Urinalysis to watch for signs of kidney failure.
- Blood tests to understand levels of creatinine, urea nitrogen phosphorus, and potassium.
- Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) blood test to estimate the level of kidney function.
- Imaging tests (such as ultrasounds, X-rays, and CT scans) to look for any abnormalities.
- Kidney biopsy to observe tissue under a microscope.
Treatment for Acute Kidney Injury
A severe car accident that causes damage to the kidneys will require a stay in a hospital. The length of your stay will depend on the cause of the AKI and how quickly your injury heals. In serious cases, you will need dialysis to replace normal kidney function until the kidneys recover.
If the kidney (and other organs) were damaged due to the crash, surgery may be needed to repair them. If a kidney is too badly injured, it will need to be removed. Fortunately, if one kidney is healthy, it is still enough for the body to maintain proper fluid balance and waste removal.
Once a patient is stable, they will rest in the hospital until no more blood is seen in the urine. After being discharged from the hospital to recover at home, the patient should watch for signs of kidney damage such as bleeding and high blood pressure.
Even after recovering from AKI, your chances of developing other health problems (e.g., kidney disease, heart disease, stroke) are higher. Protect yourself by scheduling regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor kidney function and recovery.
Long-Term Outcomes and Complications
A study from 2020 compared the long-term outcomes of patients suffering from AKI caused by motor vehicle accidents versus non-traumatic development.
Researchers found that compared to non-traumatic AKI patients, “vehicle-traumatic” AKI patients were more likely to be hospitalized for a longer length of time, have lower rates of mortality (although a higher short-term risk of death), and have similar or lower rates of end-stage kidney disease (ESKD).
While car accident victims who suffered kidney trauma are less likely to die or deal with ESKD, the first 30 days are the most crucial in terms of recovery. Older victims had a higher risk of mortality than younger victims, even if there were other injuries such as broken bones or abdominal injuries.
Still, a car accident victim whose kidneys were damaged may eventually develop complications including kidney disease, urine leaking, or an infected abscess growing around the kidney. Survivors of AKI should follow up with a nephrologist within 90 days to discuss health risks and examine the renal system to make sure everything is healthy.
Legal Options After a Wreck Causes Kidney Injury
Suffering through a violent collision and enduring invasive medical procedures shouldn’t happen to anyone. The suffering and fear can be overwhelming. You are probably wondering if there’s anyone out there who can help you pick up the pieces of your life and move forward after such a traumatic injury.
The good news is that victims of an auto accident who weren’t at fault may be able to file a personal injury claim to cover expensive hospital bills, medicine, and vehicle repairs. The insurance company should be the one covering everything, not the injured victim.
Our traumatic injury lawyers understand the emotional and financial turmoil left in the wake of a severe accident. We’re here to help. If you suffered a kidney injury, renal damage, or other debilitating internal injuries after a car accident, give Gary Martin Hays & Associates a call today for a free consultation: (770) 934-8000.