renal blood supply

Reviewed by Heather Gornik, MD and Matthew Eagleton, MD

Disease of the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys – a condition known as renal artery stenosis – is less common than the more familiar form of atherosclerosis, peripheral arterial disease, but is equally serious.

What is renal artery disease?

Like the atherosclerosis that affects the arteries of the legs (peripheral artery disease), renal artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries that lead to the kidneys. Plaque is made up of fats and cholesterol, and as it accumulates in the renal arteries, it causes the arteries to stiffen and narrow, which blocks the flow of blood to the kidneys. Obstructions (blockages) in the renal arteries, known as renal artery stenoses, can cause poorly controlled high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure.

What causes renal artery disease?

Renal artery disease most often is related to peripheral artery disease (atherosclerosis in arteries outside the heart) or coronary artery disease. Atherosclerotic renal artery disease is the most common form of this condition, accounting for more than 80 percent of all renal artery disease. The balance is generally caused by fibromuscular dysplasia, a congenital disorder that causes thickening of the artery walls without plaque build-up.

The kidneys play an important role in regulating blood pressure by secreting a hormone called renin. If the renal arteries are narrowed or blocked, the kidneys cannot work effectively to control blood pressure. Persistent or severe high blood pressure is a common symptom of renal artery stenosis.

What are the risk factors?

Many of the risk factors for renal artery disease are the same as those for atherosclerosis in other parts of the body, such as coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial disease. Risk factors for renal artery disease include:

  • age over 50
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • a family history of coronary artery disease
  • a family hisotry of peripheral arterial disease
  • a family history of renal artery disease
  • neurofibromatosis.