Renal Artery Embolism

The kidneys are very sensitive to the amount of blood that flows to them. The main artery that supplies blood to the kidney is called the renal artery. Any reduction of blood flow through the renal artery can impair kidney function. If it continues, a complete blockage of blood flow to the kidney often results in permanent kidney failure.

Acute arterial occlusion of the renal artery can occur after injury or trauma to the abdomen, side or back. Blood clots that travel through the bloodstream (emboli) can lodge in the renal artery.

Renal artery embolism (RAE) is a disease that is easily missed due to its infrequent and non-specific presentations. Renal artery embolism leads to a sudden interruption of blood flow in the renal artery or the main segmental branches and to ischemic kidney infarction. A haemorrhagic renal infarction can be the result of a renal vein thrombosis.


If the other kidney is not functioning fully, blockage of the renal artery may cause symptoms of acute kidney failure. Other symptoms of acute arterial occlusion of the renal artery include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abrupt decrease in urine output
  • Back pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Flank pain or pain in the side

Often, patients do not need treatment. Blood clots may get better on their own over time.

If the blockage is discovered within a few hours, or if the affected kidney is the only working kidney, attempts may be made to open the artery.

Attempts to open the artery may include the use of clot-dissolving medications (thrombolytics) and medications that prevent the blood from clotting (anticoagulants), such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Some people may need to have the renal artery surgically repaired. Or, they may have the blockage removed with a tube, called a catheter, inserted into the artery.

Treatment may be required for acute kidney failure, such as temporary dialysis.