Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis Treatment & Management

Updated: Sep 18, 2020
  • Author: Shawn Cowper, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Medical Care

Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) is usually a chronic, progressive condition. Rare cases of partial-to-complete spontaneous resolution have been reported in the absence of specific therapy, with the return of renal function. A favorable response to medical intervention is anecdotal. Of all treatments, extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) seems to provide the best, albeit mild and extremely expensive, treatment modality for nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.

In one patient, ECP resulted in some improvement in skin texture. [62]

In 2011, Elmholdt noted that low-dose oral imatinib mesylate slightly improved skin texture but not joint mobility in patients with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis. [63]

In 2005, Schmook et al [64] reported on successful treatment of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis with photodynamic therapy in a kidney transplant recipient.

In 2004, Kafi et al [65] found that UV-A1 phototherapy improves nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.

Läuchli et al, [66] in 2004, described the case of a 40-year-old woman with renal insufficiency who was treated with hemodialysis and who had undergone kidney transplantation. Two years after transplantation, she developed sclerodermiform brownish plaques on her extremities. The induration improved significantly after 4 cycles of ECP.

Also in 2004, Chung and Chung [67] found that nephrogenic systemic fibrosis responded to high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin.

Wahba et al [68] suggest that UV light therapy has a role in the treatment of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, based on 2 cases with which they were involved.

Another report noted that patients had no benefit from plasma exchange, intralesional triamcinolone, or intralesional methotrexate.

A trial of localized psoralen plus UV-A treatment in one patient produced no improvement. Oral prednisone (60 mg PO qd) has been effective in several cases, but it has been discontinued in some patients because of its adverse effects.

In 1 of 2 patients, intralesional alpha interferon (3 MU 3 times weekly) improved the skin, although in both patients, it had to be discontinued because of its adverse effects. In another patient, this therapy was associated with a worsening of lesions.

A small series of patients with dual liver/kidney transplants showed marked improvement with plasmapheresis. As renal function had improved posttransplant, the contribution of plasmapheresis to the improvement of cutaneous findings is not clear.

Cyclophosphamide has shown no efficacy in several patients.

Topical calcipotriene (Dovonex) under occlusion has resulted in subjective improvement in 2 patients. Calcipotriene plus betamethasone dipropionate (Taclonex) seemingly might have a role in topical treatment for nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.

Richmond et al [69] noted 8 patients with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, 5 of whom were treated with ECP for a mean number of 34 treatment sessions over a mean of 8.5 months. Mildly improved skin tightening, range of motion, and/or functional capacity were achieved.

Yerram et al [70] reported on a patient who had nephrogenic systemic fibrosis and had multiple previous exposures to gadolinium (Gd3+)–based MRI studies and experienced a substantial decrease in pain and skin changes after a trial of intravenous sodium thiosulfate.

In 2008, Kreuter et al found limited effects of UV-A1 phototherapy in 3 patients with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis. [71]

Inpatient care

Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis does not require inpatient care. No inpatient or outpatient treatment has been particularly successful in treating this condition. Plasmapheresis has shown some promise and is still being evaluated for its efficacy in persons who have not undergone transplantation.


Surgical Care

Surgical care has no role in the treatment of this condition. Although surgical care has no direct role in the treatment of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, patients who have undergone successful kidney transplantation may show resolution of the lesions. Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is not a contraindication to transplantation; however, because of reports of associated thrombotic events and early graft loss, evaluation for hypercoagulability should be performed.



A dermatologist should assess the patient. The consultation is usually referred by a nephrologist. A dermatopathologist should be requested to review the biopsy material, and the suspicion of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis should be clearly indicated on the accession form.



This disease can result in limited movement. Although the role for physical therapy has not been studied, it would appear intuitive to be useful in patients who are affected.



Guidelines have vastly decreased the number of cases of NSF. These guidelines include (1) limiting gadolinium-based contrast agents to a maximum dose of 0.1 mmol/kg, (2) dialyzing renally impaired patients undergoing dialysis rapidly following gadolinium-based contrast agents use, (3) delaying gadolinium-based contrast agents in acute renal failure by waiting until renal function improves or dialysis is started, and (4) not using nonionic linear GBCA in patients with renal failure, in particular when proinflammatory conditions are coincident. [72, 73, 74, 75, 76]


Long-Term Monitoring

Because nephrogenic systemic fibrosis may restrict mobility, physical therapy might be helpful for some patients with this condition.