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Renal Artery Stenosis

Condition Basics

What is 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.

What causes it?

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.

What are the symptoms?

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.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical examination. He or she will order lab tests and ask about your and your family's past health.

You may have a test that lets your doctor look at a picture of your kidneys and renal arteries. Tests that can do this include:

Duplex Doppler ultrasound.

This test uses sound waves to show how blood flows through a blood vessel.

Computed tomography (CT) angiogram.

It uses X-rays to make pictures of the renal arteries.

Magnetic resonance angiogram.

It uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of the renal arteries.

How is it 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.

What is my self-care going to be like?

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 your arteries healthy and help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These foods include vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit alcohol, sodium, 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.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19, influenza (flu), and pneumonia.

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, protein, and fluids.

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Current as of: September 7, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Mitchell H. Rosner MD - Nephrology

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