Renal artery embolism

Specialty of Nephrology

What is renal artery embolism?

Renal artery embolism occurs when a blood clot travels from the heart or an aortic plaque to the renal tissue, causing a severe obstruction of the artery carrying blood to the kidney. A mild obstruction may adversely affect kidney function, whereas total obstruction may cause permanent kidney failure.

Symptoms of renal artery embolism

It should be borne in mind that even if one kidney is not working, there may be no symptoms as the other kidney continues to filter the blood. If the other kidney is not working, blockage of the renal artery may cause symptoms of acute kidney failure. Other signs, which usually appear suddenly, may be:

What are the consequences of renal artery embolism?

The consequences depend on the degree of obstruction: for example, complete obstruction of blood flow may lead to permanent kidney failure. A less severe obstruction may cause the kidney to not work properly.

Can it be prevented?

In a great number of cases, renal artery embolism cannot be prevented. One of the main ways to reduce the risk is to stop smoking.
It should be borne in mind that people at high risk of developing blood clots may have to take anticoagulants. It is also helpful to control diseases related to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), as this lowers the risk.

What is the treatment?

In some cases, treatment is not necessary because the blood clots improve by themselves over time. If the obstruction is discovered after a few hours or if there is no other functioning kidney, an attempt may be made to open the artery. In such cases, to attempt to unblock the artery and dissolve the clot, medications that dissolve clots (thrombolytics) are given, restoring blood flow in the artery. In addition, medications that prevent blood clotting (anticoagulants), such as warfarin, are given.

In some cases, it may be necessary to surgically repair the renal artery or to eliminate the block with a catheter introduced in the artery. In addition, it may be necessary to treat acute kidney failure, for example with temporary dialysis.

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