What are the symptoms of renal artery disease?

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Renal artery disease, or renal artery stenosis (RAS), is a condition in which blockages have developed in the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. You can have RAS without having any symptoms, so it is very important to be aware of the risk factors that can cause RAS. Based on your medical history, physical exam, blood test, and other factors, you and your doctor may decide that you should be tested for RAS. 

When symptoms of RAS are present, they often include:
  • High blood pressure. In some cases, high blood pressure is a symptom of RAS. About 5 percent of all patients with high blood pressure have blockages in the kidneys. One way to diagnose RAS is to see how the patient responds to medication to treat high blood pressure. If you have RAS, your high blood pressure may not respond to medication.
  • Blockages in other arteries. Sometimes RAS is discovered when your doctor is checking for blockages in other parts of the body, for example in the coronary or carotid arteries. Thirty percent or more of patients who have blockages in other arteries also have blockages in their kidney arteries. 
  • Other symptoms. RAS symptoms also include the following:
    • The sound of turbulent blood flow in your abdomen, heard through a stethoscope by your doctor
    • Decreased kidney function
    • Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs
    • A small, shrunken kidney, or differently sized and shaped kidneys (as seen in an ultrasound test)
    • More than three blood pressure medications needed to control blood pressure
    • High blood pressure for the first time after age 55 or before the age of 35
    • Sudden worsening of high blood pressure that was previously well controlled, especially in people over age 60
Without the help of your doctor, you might not know that you have RAS. So make sure you are seeing your doctor on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to ask about RAS and what you can do to reduce your risk of having it.