Renal artery stenosis: a common, treatable cause of renal failure?

Annu Rev Med. 2001;52:421-42. doi: 10.1146/


Chronic azotemic renovascular disease is common in patients with atherosclerosis. Its prevalence appears to be increasing in the aging population. How often it is the primary cause of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is not yet certain. Some studies suggest that 10%-40% of elderly hypertensive patients with newly documented ESRD and no demonstrable primary renal disease have significant renal artery stenosis (RAS). Atherosclerotic vascular occlusive disease of the renal arteries does progress, but current rates of progression and occlusion are lower than those reported a decade ago. Methods of identifying patients whose renal function is at true risk from vascular occlusive disease and determining who will benefit from intervention remain elusive. The presence of RAS in an azotemic patient can be assessed with noninvasive and risk-free radiologic techniques, including Duplex doppler velicometry and magnetic resonance angiography. Functional tests that predict the change in renal function after revascularization are not yet available. However, a renal length of greater than 7.5 cm in the absence of renal cysts and a short history of renal functional deterioration indicate a good prognosis. Patients with recent deterioration in renal function, those with bilateral renal artery stenosis or stenosis to a single functioning kidney, those with flash pulmonary edema, advanced chronic renal failure, or ESRD (who have much to gain), those with reversible azotemia during angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (ACEI) or angiotensin receptor antagonist (ARB) therapy, and those whose conditions cannot be managed medically should be considered for revascularization. Results from recent controlled clinical trials of the response to percutaneous transluminal renal artery angioplasty (PTRA) and stenting indicate that improvement in blood pressure control or renal function is not a predictable outcome of renal revascularization. In azotemic groups, 25%-30% of patients achieve important recovery of renal function. Thus, significant progress has been made recently in determining whether RAS is a frequent, treatable cause of renal failure. The decision to recommend revascularization remains a difficult balance between the risks and expense of the procedure and the undoubted benefits that accrue if renal function is successfully stabilized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Angioplasty, Balloon
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Arteriosclerosis / complications*
  • Arteriosclerosis / diagnosis
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Arteriosclerosis / therapy*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Renovascular / etiology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / etiology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / complications*
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / diagnosis
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / physiopathology
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / therapy*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stents


  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors