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Atheroembolic Kidney Disease


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
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Your kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs that make urine, balance your body’s water and mineral levels, and filter waste out of your blood.

The Urinary Tract

The Urinary Tract

What is atheroembolic kidney disease?

Atheroembolic kidney disease is kidney failure caused when tiny pieces of hard, fatty material in your arteries break off and block the small arteries that supply blood to your kidneys. Those broken-off pieces of hard, fatty material are called emboli.

  • Atheroembolic kidney disease can affect one or both kidneys

  • If both kidneys are severely affected, you can get kidney failure

  • It's usually caused by surgery or a medical procedure on an artery

  • Kidney failure is detected by a blood test

  • Doctors can’t fix the kidney damage , but they'll try to prevent it from getting worse

  • You may need kidney dialysis (a process to filter your blood when your kidneys aren’t able to do it)

What causes atheroembolic kidney disease?

When you have hardening of your arteries (atherosclerosis), your arteries clog up with hard, fatty material. Pieces of this fatty material can break off and float in your blood until they get stuck in a small blood vessel. If enough of that material gets into blood vessels in one organ, that organ can fail.

Atheroembolic kidney disease most often happens after you have surgery or a procedure involving your aorta (the largest artery in your body). Pieces of fatty material stuck to the wall of your aorta can break off by accident during the procedure and travel to your kidneys. Sometimes the fatty material breaks off on its own.

The fatty material can also block blood vessels in other organs in your belly, such as your intestines or pancreas.

What are the symptoms of atheroembolic kidney disease?

You usually don't have any symptoms unless you get kidney failure. Symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • Feeling weak and tired

  • Feeling sick to your stomach

  • Being less hungry than usual

  • Itching

  • Feeling sleepy or confused

Rarely, the kidney damage causes high blood pressure.

How can doctors tell if I have atheroembolic kidney disease?

Doctors may suspect atheroembolic kidney disease if routine blood or urine tests show your kidneys aren't working normally after you've had surgery or a procedure on your aorta. To know for sure, they'll sometimes do:

  • Kidney biopsy (take out a little piece of your kidney tissue to look at under a microscope)

  • Ultrasound

How do doctors treat atheroembolic kidney disease?

Doctors can't reverse the kidney damage, but they can treat you to help prevent more emboli with:

  • Medicine to prevent the buildup of more fatty material in your arteries

If your kidneys have been badly damaged, you may need:

  • Dialysis (a machine filters your blood when your kidneys aren’t able to do it)

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