Atheromatous renal disease

Am J Med. 1988 Aug;85(2):139-46. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(88)80332-2.


Purpose: Atheroma as a cause of renal failure has been largely overlooked. We wanted to report our experience with atheromatous renal disease over a 12-year period.

Patients and methods: Observations on 32 cases of various forms of renal failure in patients with atheromatous renal disease are presented. These patients had been hypertensive for an average of 10.2 +/- 9.2 years. The length of deterioration was an average of 17 months, and at presentation renal insufficiency was severe, with serum creatinine levels of (mean +/- SD) 616 +/- 358 mumol/liter (6.8 +/- 4.0 mg/dl). At this stage, the clinical picture was indistinguishable from other common causes of chronic renal failure in the elderly. Thus, the precise diagnosis would have been overlooked without an aggressive diagnostic workup. All patients underwent angiography and six patients underwent renal biopsy.

Results: In 22 cases, renal insufficiency was mainly due to atheromatous stenosis of renal arteries. In six of six patients, the results of renal biopsy showed cholesterol crystal embolism. In four additional cases, there was clinical or histologic evidence of extrarenal cholesterol embolism. In eight, renal artery plaques coexisted with cholesterol embolism. In two patients, renal failure was due only to cholesterol embolism. Renal atheromatous stenoses were developing, as shown on serial angiographies performed in five cases. In seven cases, stenoses involved both the main trunks of renal arteries and several intrarenal branches of too small a diameter to allow reconstructive surgery or percutaneous transluminal angioplasty. In addition, the general condition of most patients was so poor as to preclude surgery. Dialysis was begun in 11 patients, four other patients died, and renal failure was managed conservatively in 11. When undertaken, reconstructive surgery was successful in five of six patients.

Conclusions: Atheromatous renal disease is a frequent and easily overlooked cause of chronic renal insufficiency. It is not only due to renal artery stenosis but also to complex intrarenal lesions, with multiple stenoses of intrarenal vasculature and cholesterol embolism. It should be diagnosed by early angiography and renal biopsy, before the stage of multivisceral complications and at a time when surgery can still be undertaken.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arteriosclerosis / complications*
  • Arteriosclerosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Arteriosclerosis / pathology
  • Cholesterol
  • Embolism / complications
  • Embolism / diagnostic imaging
  • Embolism / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / diagnostic imaging
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Renal Artery / diagnostic imaging
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / complications*
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / diagnostic imaging
  • Renal Artery Obstruction / pathology


  • Cholesterol