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Renal Artery Stenosis

Renal artery stenosis is the narrowing of one or both of the renal arteries. These vessels supply blood to your kidneys. They also help the body control blood pressure.

  • Symptoms

    What are the symptoms of renal artery stenosis?

    Renal artery stenosis itself doesn't cause symptoms. But if it gets worse, it may cause high blood pressure. Or it may affect how well your kidneys work. Then you may have symptoms of those problems, such as shortness of breath, or fluid buildup that causes swelling in your legs and feet.

    Several things may make your doctor think that you have renal artery stenosis. These include blood tests that show that your kidneys don't work as well as they should. Or maybe you were diagnosed with high blood pressure at an early age. Or maybe medicine doesn't lower your blood pressure.

  • Causes

    What causes renal artery stenosis?

    The most common cause of renal artery stenosis is a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque. It can happen in either or both renal arteries. This is often called "hardening of the arteries," or atherosclerosis. The buildup can narrow the artery and reduce blood flow to the kidneys.

    Renal artery stenosis can also be caused by fibromuscular dysplasia. This is a condition in which some of the cells that line the renal arteries grow or don't develop the right way. This growth can cause the arteries to narrow.

  • Diagnosis

    How is renal artery stenosis diagnosed?

    To find out if you have renal artery stenosis, your doctor will do a physical exam, order lab tests, and ask about your and your family's past health.

    If your doctor thinks that you may have renal artery stenosis, you may have a test that lets your doctor look at a picture of your kidneys and renal arteries. These tests include:

    Duplex Doppler ultrasound.

    This test uses sound waves to show how blood flows through a blood vessel. It can show reduced flow of blood through narrow areas in the renal arteries.

    Computed tomography (CT) angiogram.

    This test uses X-rays to provide pictures of the renal arteries. The test uses a special dye that is put into a vein (IV) to make very detailed pictures of the arteries. It can show if the artery is narrowed or blocked.

    Magnetic resonance angiogram.

    This test uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of the renal arteries. It can show narrowing in the renal arteries that may be causing reduced blood flow. This test allows the doctor to see both the blood flow and the condition of the artery walls.

    Acatheter angiogramof the kidney.

    This is an X-ray test that provides pictures of the blood flow in a blood vessel, such as the renal arteries. During an angiogram, the doctor will put a thin, flexible tube into a blood vessel in your groin or arm. This tube is called a catheter. The doctor guides the tube to the blood vessel that will be studied. Then a dye is injected through the tube to make the area easier to see. X-rays or pictures are taken of the area. An angiogram can also show narrowing or a blockage in a blood vessel that affects blood flow. Sometimes a problem can be treated during this test. For example, a catheter can be used to open a narrowed renal artery.

  • Treatment

    How is renal artery stenosis treated?

    Treatment for renal artery stenosis is done to help reduce damage to the kidneys and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. With renal artery stenosis, you may have the same narrowing in other arteries in your body, like the coronary arteries of your heart. This can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

    If you have renal artery stenosis and your blood pressure or cholesterol is high, you may take medicine to lower it. A heart-healthy lifestyle can also help. Eating heart-healthy foods, being active, and not smoking can help keep the renal and other arteries in your body healthy. It can also help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

    Certain people may have an angioplasty or surgery to improve blood flow to the kidneys. This treatment is not commonly done.

  • Self-Care

    How can you care for yourself when you have renal artery stenosis?

    Caring for yourself when you have renal artery stenosis means doing things that will help slow or prevent it from getting worse.

    Taking medicines and having a heart-healthy lifestyle can help keep the renal and other arteries in your body healthy. Taking these steps can also help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

    • Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods. These foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. You limit foods that aren't so good for your heart, like sodium (salt), alcohol, and sugar.
    • Be active. Work with your doctor to design an exercise program that's right for you.
    • Stay at a healthy weight, or lose weight if you need to.
    • Manage other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. You can use heart-healthy lifestyle changes along with medicines to manage these conditions.

    If you have chronic kidney disease, follow a diet that's easy on your kidneys. A dietitian can help you make an eating plan with the right amounts of salt and protein. You may also need to watch how much fluid you drink each day.


    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.