Public Release: 

Study characterizes the incidence and effects of severe kidney injury during pregnancy

Many affected women and their babies have good outcomes

American Society of Nephrology


  • In Ontario, Canada, the incidence of acute kidney injury that requires dialysis is 1 in 10,000 pregnancies.
  • Otherwise healthy women who acquire a major pregnancy-related complication are at increased risk.
  • In pregnancies affected by severe acute kidney injury, babies are at increased risk of having low birth weights or being born prematurely.

Washington, DC (May 14, 2015) -- A new study indicates that severe kidney injury is rare during pregnancy, but it typically occurs in otherwise healthy women who acquire a major pregnancy-related complication. The study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), also reveals the health outcomes of mothers and their babies following severe kidney injury during pregnancy.

Acute kidney injury (AKI), an abrupt or rapid decline in kidney function, is a rare but serious complication of pregnancy. Although previously considered a disappearing entity, the incidence and outcomes of AKI during pregnancy may be adversely impacted as increasing numbers of pregnancies are occurring in women who are older, have conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease, or use reproductive technologies.

To determine the incidence, characteristics, and outcomes of women with AKI who require treatment with dialysis during pregnancy and the postpartum period, Ainslie Hildebrand, MD (Western University's London Health Sciences Centre, in Canada) and her colleagues analyzed information on all pregnancies from 1997 to 2011 in Ontario.

Among the major findings:

  • The incidence of AKI that was treated with dialysis was 1 in 10,000 pregnancies (188 out of 1.9 million pregnancies).

  • Most women who developed AKI during pregnancy had no recorded pre-existing health conditions; however, compared with healthy women, those with pre-pregnancy hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or lupus were at least twice as likely to develop AKI during pregnancy, and those with a major pregnancy-related complication such as preeclampsia were nearly 4-times more likely to develop AKI.

  • Four percent of women who developed AKI during pregnancy died during the 15-year study, and 4% of survivors remained dialysis-depended after delivery.

  • Adverse perinatal outcomes--such as low birth weight and preterm birth--occurred in 35% of pregnancies affected by AKI; however there were no stillbirths and fewer than 5 neonatal deaths (<3%).

"This is the first population-based assessment of severe pregnancy-related AKI in a developed nation," said Dr. Hildebrand. "Fortunately, with ongoing improvements in obstetrical care, maternal and perinatal mortality in this setting are largely avoidable."


Study co-authors include Kuan Liu, MMath, Salimah Shariff, PhD, Joel Ray, MD, MSc, Jessica Sontrop, PhD, William Clark, MD, Michelle Hladunewich, MD, MSc, and Amit Garg, MD PhD.

Disclosures: This work was conducted at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) Western Site, which is funded by an annual grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and an operating grant from the Academic Medical Organization of Southwestern Ontario. This project was conducted with members of the provincial ICES Kidney, Dialysis and Transplantation Research Program, which receives programmatic grant funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Dr. Hildebrand was supported by the Clinical Investigator Program at Western University. Dr. Garg was supported by the Dr. Adam Linton Chair in Kidney Health Analytics. The authors declare no support from any organization for the submitted work, no financial relationships with any organizations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years, and no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

The article, entitled "Characteristics and Outcomes of AKI Treated with Dialysis during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period," will appear online at on May 14, 2015.

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