Renal artery disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries due to the buildup of fatty deposits or plaques along the artery wall. This build-up can reduce blood-flow to one or both kidneys, or block flow completely depending on the location of the plaque. Decreased blood flow to the kidneys because of these blockages often causes high blood pressure (hypertension), and can lead to congestive heart failure and kidney failure.
High blood pressure that is not controlled by medications and lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, may be a symptom of renal artery disease. Symptoms of renal artery disease may also include episodes of fluid retention or congestive heart failure. In some cases, renal artery disease may be entirely asymptomatic (not associated with any symptoms).
A small catheter – a long, thin tube – carrying a tiny balloon is inserted through a small puncture in the groin and guided by x-ray to the kidney artery. When the catheter is guided to the narrowed part of the artery, the balloon is inflated. As it expands, it compresses the plaque against the artery walls, re-opening the vessel for blood to flow through. Once the artery is open, the physician may insert a stent at the site to keep the artery open and support the artery wall. This procedure can be performed as an outpatient or with only an overnight stay.