OBJECTIVES: Positive fluid balance is frequent in critically ill patients and has been considered a potential biomarker for acute kidney injury (AKI). This study aimed to evaluate positive fluid balance as a biomarker for the early detection of AKI in critically ill patients. METHODS: This was a prospective cohort study. The sample was composed of patients ≥18 years old who stayed ≥3 days in an intensive care unit. Fluid balance, urinary output and serum creatinine were assessed daily. AKI was diagnosed by the Kidney Disease Improving Global Outcome criteria. RESULTS: The final cohort was composed of 233 patients. AKI occurred in 92 patients (40%) after a median of 3 (2-6) days following ICU admission. When fluid balance was assessed as a continuous variable, a 100-ml increase in fluid balance was independently associated with a 4% increase in the odds of AKI (OR 1.04; 95% CI 1.01-1.08). Positive fluid balance categorized using different thresholds was always significantly associated with subsequent detection of AKI. The mixed effects model showed that increased fluid balance preceded AKI by 4 to 6 days. CONCLUSION: These results suggest that a positive fluid balance might be an early biomarker for AKI development in critically ill patients.