Renal papillary necrosis is a disorder of the kidneys in which all or part of the renal papillae die. The renal papillae are the areas where the openings of the collecting ducts enter the kidney and where urine flows into the ureters.
Renal papillary necrosis often occurs with analgesic nephropathy. This is damage to one or both kidneys caused by overexposure to pain medicines. But, other conditions can also cause renal papillary necrosis, including:
The area over the affected kidney (in the flank) may feel tender during an exam. There may be a history of urinary tract infections. There may be signs of blocked urine flow or kidney failure.
Tests that may be done include:
Ultrasound, CT, or other imaging tests of the kidneys
There is no specific treatment for renal papillary necrosis. Treatment depends on the cause. For example, if analgesic nephropathy is the cause, your doctor will recommend that you stop using the medicine that is causing it. This may allow the kidney to heal over time.
How well a person does, depends on what is causing the condition. If the cause can be controlled, the condition may go away on its own. Sometimes, people with this condition develop kidney failure and will need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Health problems that may result from renal papillary necrosis include:
Kidney cancer, especially in people who take a lot of pain medicines
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
You develop other symptoms of renal papillary necrosis, especially after taking over-the-counter pain medicines
Controlling diabetes or sickle cell anemia may reduce your risk. To prevent renal papillary necrosis from analgesic nephropathy, follow your provider's instructions when using medicines, including over-the-counter pain relievers. Do not take more than the recommended dose without asking your provider.
Ruggenenti P, Cravedi P, Remuzzi G. Microvascular and macrovascular diseases of the kidney. In: Taal MW, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Skorecki K, Yu ASL, Brenner BM, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 34.
Zhou M, Netto GJ, Epstein JI. Renal papillary necrosis. In: Zhou M, Netto GJ, Epstein JI, eds. High-Yield Uropathology. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:253.
Charles Silberberg, DO, private practice specializing in nephrology, affiliated with New York Medical College, Division of Nephrology, Valhalla, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.