[Current role of color Doppler ultrasound in acute renal failure]

M Bertolotto, E Quaia, A Rimondini, E Lubin, R Pozzi Mucelli
La Radiologia Medica 2001, 102 (5-6): 340-7
Acute Renal Failure (ARF) is characterized by a rapid decline of the glomerular filtration rate, due to hypotension (prerenal ARF), obstruction of the urinary tract (post-renal ARF) or renal parenchymal disease (renal ARF). The differential diagnosis among different causes of ARF is based on anamnesis, clinical symptoms and laboratory data. Usually ultrasound (US) is the only imaging examination performed in these patients, because it is safe and readily available. In patients with ARF gray scale US is usually performed to rule out obstruction since it is highly sensitive to recognize hydronephrosis. Patients with renal ARF have no specific changes in renal morphology. The size of the kidneys is usually normal or increased, with smooth margins. Detection of small kidneys suggests underlying chronic renal pathology and worse prognosis. Echogenicity and parenchymal thickness are usually normal, but in some cases there are hyperechogenic kidneys, increased parenchymal thickness and increased cortico-medullary differentiation. Evaluation of renal vasculature with pulsed Doppler US is useful in the differential diagnosis between prerenal ARF and acute tubular necrosis (ATN), and in the diagnosis of renal obstruction. Latest generation US apparatus allow color Doppler and power Doppler evaluation of renal vasculature up to the interlobular vessels. A significant, but non specific, reduction in renal perfusion is usually appreciable in the patients with ARF. There are renal pathologic conditions presenting with ARF in which color Doppler US provides more specific morphologic and functional information. In particular, color Doppler US often provides direct or indirect signs which can lead to the right diagnosis in old patients with chronic renal insufficiency complicated with ARF, in patients with acute pyelonephritis, hepatic disease, vasculitis, thrombotic microangiopathies, and in patients with acute thrombosis of the renal artery and vein. Contrast enhanced US is another useful diagnostic tool in patients with ARF which has been recently introduced in clinical practice. Microbubble administration may reduce technical failure in the evaluation of the renal artery. Moreover, perfusion defects due to stenosis or thrombosis of the renal segmentary vessels are better recognized. New diagnostic possibilities of enhanced US include evaluation of both cortical and medullar vessels, and functional evaluation of renal perfusion. Measuring the transit time of the microbubbles is useful for the diagnosis of renal artery stenosis and, in transplanted kidneys, for differential diagnosis between ATN and acute rejection.

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