Hardening of the Arteries of the Kidneys

Hardening of the Arteries of the Kidneys

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High blood pressure is a risk factor for hardening of the arteries.

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Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a complex disease whose cause is incompletely understood. The process that leads to arteriosclerosis involves inflammation of your arteries, thickening of the muscles within their walls, fatty plaque deposits building up along their inner surfaces and hardening of the plaques by calcium and scarlike tissue. Progressive arteriosclerosis reduces your arteries' abilities to deliver blood to the structures they supply -- your eyes, brain, heart, intestine and kidneys. Arteriosclerosis in the kidneys may trigger a series of undesirable events.

Delicate Anatomy

Your kidneys are complicated organs. Each kidney contains about 1 million tiny filtration units called nephrons. Each nephron is responsible for filtering the blood from a single, looped artery. As blood travels through the nephron, it is cleansed of wastes, which are eliminated in your urine. The nephron then recovers useful molecules and returns them to your bloodstream. When the blood flow to your kidneys is diminished by arteriosclerosis, the nephrons may be damaged and irreversibly scarred.

Causes and Associations

According to researchers at Innsbruck Medical University in Innsbruck, Austria, arteriosclerosis may be initiated by an immune response to injuries to your arterial walls. These injuries can stem from mechanical trauma, chemicals, radiation, infectious agents, autoimmune diseases or other factors. A May 2010 review in "American Journal of Physiology" cites high blood pressure, diabetes, consuming too many calories and aging as common sources of arterial injury. Once your arteries are damaged, a progressive cycle of inflammation and worsening arteriosclerosis may follow.

Progressive Damage

Because functional kidneys are so vital to your survival, it's important to protect their blood supply. When arteriosclerosis robs them of blood flow, the nephrons within your kidneys release a hormone that drives your blood pressure upward. This compensatory mechanism -- the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system -- improves blood flow to your kidneys, but only temporarily. Ever-increasing blood pressure injures the arteries that supply all your organs, including your kidneys. This additional injury makes arteriosclerosis worse. As arteriosclerosis worsens, the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system becomes even more active, leading to a vicious cycle that may lead to severe hypertension and kidney failure.

Interrupting the Cycle

Once established, arteriosclerosis may not be reversible. So, it is important to minimize the impact of underlying conditions that contribute to arteriosclerosis. A balanced diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking and working toward a healthy weight will reduce your risk for arteriosclerosis and slow its progression. Depending on your needs, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat diabetes, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, all of which contribute to arteriosclerosis. Together, lifestyle changes and medical therapy can slow arteriosclerosis and help preserve your kidneys.


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