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Renal Biopsy

  • Author: Lanna Cheuck, DO; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
Updated: Feb 11, 2016


A renal biopsy is a procedure used to obtain a segment of renal tissue, usually through a needle or another surgical instrument. Analysis of this tissue is then used in the diagnosis of an underlying renal condition.

Renal biopsy is used to diagnose renal diseases ranging from infection to transient rejection to renal cell carcinoma. Once a biopsy diagnosis is established, it can be used to help guide treatment options and may also assist in determining prognosis of the underlying condition.



Renal biopsy is typically performed by a radiologist under CT or ultrasonographic guidance. However, a urologist can also perform renal biopsy during renal surgery.

There are multiple indications to perform renal biopsy, including the following:

Paripovic et al[1] and Printza et al[2] both performed retrospective studies to determine indications of pediatric renal biopsy. Both found that nephrotic syndrome was the most common indication (32.9%). Paripovic et al found that other indications included asymptomatic hematuria (23.4%), urinary abnormalities in systemic diseases (15.8%), and proteinuria (11.4%). Both studies found that glomerular disease was most prevalent.

Paripovic et al found that the most common causes of glomerular disease included focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (20.9%), mesangioproliferative glomerulonephritis (14.6%), immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy (8.9%), minimal change disease (13%), lupus nephritis (6%), and Henoch-Schönlein nephritis (4%).

Printza et al found that the most common findings included focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (15%), IgA nephropathy (13.5%), minimal change disease (10%), various stages of lupus nephritis (8.5%), Henoch-Schönlein nephritis (7.5%), membranous glomerulonephritis (7.5%), mesangioproliferative glomerulonephritis (6%), postinfectious glomerulonephritis (6%), hemolytic uremic syndrome (5%), tubulointerstitial nephropathies (3.5%), and acute tubular necrosis (2.5%).

The image below depicts a micrograph of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis.

Histology slide. Histology slide.

Application of biopsy in the renal allograft

The application of biopsy to renal allografts is a controversial indication that is still being actively researched.

Rush et al from the Manitoba Adult Renal Transplant Program were the first to report the finding of subclinical rejection within the first 3 months post transplantation.[3] Subclinical rejection can be broadly defined as lymphocytic infiltration of a renal allograft with normal function. Rush et al further classified subclinical rejection as a serum creatinine increased by more than 10% 2 weeks before the protocol biopsy and a histological Baniff score (system used for scoring renal allograft histology) of “ai2at2” (type 1A acute rejection) or greater.[4] The controversy regarding this topic is whether detecting subclinical rejection from a specific biopsy protocol can guide early successful treatment of renal allograft pathology, ultimately improving long-term graft function.

A study analyzed a 10-year follow-up of their patient population diagnosed with subclinical rejection at 14 days post transplantation.[5] Their results showed a significant decrease in graft survival over the 10-year period, concluding that subclinical rejection can predict transplant outcomes. Another study attempted to determine the benefit of early detection of subclinical rejection and subsequent treatment with corticosteroids.[6] The study featured 72 patients randomized to 2 biopsy groups, one receiving biopsies at 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12 months (biopsy arm) and the other receiving biopsy at 6 and 12 months (control group). Patients in the biopsy group showed a decrease in acute rejection, reduced chronic tubulointerstitial score at 6 months, and a lower serum creatinine at 24 months compared with patients in the control group.

Despite whether biopsy in normal, functioning renal allografts will be determined clinically beneficial in the future, renal biopsy remains the criterion standard for the diagnosis of renal transplant abnormalities. In a patient with suspected renal transplant abnormalities, whether based on laboratory findings, such as elevated creatinine levels, or clinical signs, such as fever, edema, hypertension, oliguria, and proteinuria, histological confirmation of the diagnosis is often required.[7] One study analyzed the accuracy of clinical prediction of allograft pathology related to diagnosis found after renal biopsy.[8] Findings revealed 43% of clinical predictions were totally correct and of the 57 % of cases where predictions were not accurate, 26% of those cases were completely incorrect, clarifying the necessity of renal biopsy for accurate diagnosis of allograft pathology.



Absolute contraindications to renal biopsy include the following:

  • Uncorrectable bleeding diathesis
  • Uncontrollable severe hypertension
  • Active renal or perirenal infection
  • Skin infection at biopsy site

The following are relative contraindications to renal biopsy:

  • Uncooperative patient
  • Anatomic abnormalities of the kidney which may increase risk
  • Small kidneys
  • Solitary kidney

Technical Considerations

The following factors may make renal biopsy difficult for the radiologist:

  • Small kidneys
  • Solitary kidney
  • Retrorenal colon
  • Highly vascularized tumors (increased risk of bleeding)

Other considerations include the possibility of infection, injection into a muscle (creating a hematoma), and the possibility of the biopsy needle inadvertently piercing other organs in close proximity to the kidney, such as the colon, spleen, and liver.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Lanna Cheuck, DO Director of Endourology, Montefiore Medical Center

Lanna Cheuck, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Osteopathic Association, American Urological Association, Endourological Society, Society of Women in Urology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Christopher S Atalla, DO Resident Physician, Department of Urology, Detroit Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Eric M Ghiraldi New York College of Osteopathic Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Edward David Kim, MD, FACS Professor of Surgery, Division of Urology, University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, University of Tennessee Medical Center

Edward David Kim, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, Tennessee Medical Association, Sexual Medicine Society of North America, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, American Society of Andrology, American Urological Association

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Repros.



Christopher Atalla MSIV

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  9. Renal Biopsy. Medline Plus. Available at Accessed: June 18, 2012.

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  13. Kitterer D, Gürzing K, Segerer S, Alscher MD, Amann K, Braun N, et al. Diagnostic impact of percutaneous renal biopsy. Clin Nephrol. 2015 Dec. 84 (12):311-22. [Medline].

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  15. Kriegshauser JS, Patel MD, Young SW, Chen F, Eversman WG, Chang YH, et al. Factors Contributing to the Success of Ultrasound-Guided Native Renal Biopsy. J Ultrasound Med. 2016 Feb. 35 (2):381-7. [Medline].

Perinephric hematoma after a renal biopsy
Ultrasound guided percutaneous renal biopsy to obtain kidney tissue for diagnosis
CT guided biopsy of a renal mass
Histology slide.
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