Nephrosclerosis Follow-up

Updated: Jun 09, 2021
  • Author: Fernando C Fervenza, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Vecihi Batuman, MD, FASN  more...
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For hypertension complicating primary kidney disease, considerations for prevention include the following:

  • Systemic hypertension clearly induces or accelerates the progression of kidney disease in experimental models. In these models, blood pressure (BP) control reduces proteinuria and prevents deterioration of kidney function.

  • Similarly, in a variety of primary human kidney diseases, hypertension strongly predicts a faster decline in the glomerular filtration rate.

  • As demonstrated by the MDRD study, even small differences in mean arterial pressure between the usual BP control group and the low-BP group had significant effects in reducing kidney disease progression.



Traditionally, nephrosclerosis was considered the consequence of long-term hypertension. This premise is based on observations of rapidly progressive kidney failure developing in some patients with malignant hypertension. Such individuals demonstrate arterial and necrotizing lesions in the kidneys, which may be reversed with effective BP control. However, less severe hypertension, per se, is suggested to cause kidney failure only rarely, and progressive kidney impairment is usually secondary to undiagnosed primary kidney disease.

Madhavan et al (1995) followed the cases of 2125 men with mild-to-moderate hypertension for 5 years and found no change in serum creatinine values. [38] Similarly, Tomson et al (1991) followed the cases of 176 patients with essential hypertension for more than 14 years and found no change in serum creatinine values, with none of the patients developing kidney failure. [54]

In the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, the cases of 446 patients who are predominantly white and of middle or upper socioeconomic status were followed over a 13-year period. In this study, patients with hypertension had a decline in their glomerular filtration rates (GFRs) at a faster rate than normotensive subjects (0.92 mL/min/y vs 0.75 mL/min/y). Although this study showed that patients with hypertension lost kidney function at a faster rate with aging than normotensive subjects, the rate of decline in kidney function was small and unlikely to result in end-stage renal disease (ESRD). More importantly, this study failed to determine whether the decline in kidney function was secondary to essential hypertension or was the result of undiagnosed primary kidney disease.

In a review of the British Health System data on hypertension and nephrosclerosis, Beevers and Lip (1996) noted that baseline proteinuria or kidney impairment was evident at presentation in all patients who later developed significant kidney failure. [37] More importantly, these authors did not find any reported cases of patients who went on to develop kidney failure who had benign essential hypertension with reference range serum creatinine levels and no evidence of proteinuria.

On the other hand, Rosansky et al (1990) reported on the cases of 56 patients with essential hypertension, all of whom had creatinine levels within the reference range and no proteinuria at the beginning of the observation, and compared them with 59 normotensive control patients. [55] At an average of 9.8 years, the rate of decline in kidney function was significantly higher in the patients with hypertension than in the control patients; however, the authors stated that the diagnostic criteria for hypertensive kidney disease often were not fulfilled.

Finally, Klag et al (1996), in the largest prospective trial to date, primarily intended to examine the cardiovascular risk associated with hypertension. [56] The MRFIT analyzed the cases of 332,544 men (90.4% white) whose cases were followed for an average of 16 years. This study showed a strong graded relationship between BP (the relative risk of developing ESRD varied from 2.8-12.4 as diastolic BP increased from 90-120 mm Hg) and the subsequent development of ESRD; however, most patients with progressive kidney failure had a diagnosis other than essential hypertension. Furthermore, this tendency to develop an elevation in the serum creatinine level appears to have been largely a feature of the black population because no changes in the reciprocal creatinine slope were observed in white patients; however, a significant decline in kidney function was observed in the black patients.

In 1997, the same group of authors (Brancati et al) reevaluated data from the MRFIT, this time aiming to determine the relative risk of ESRD related to diabetes. [57] Their conclusion was that diabetes mellitus is a strong independent risk factor for ESRD, even for ESRD ascribed to causes other than diabetes (by year 15 of follow-up, the cumulative ESRD incidence rate increased to 2.97% in diabetic men). However, if baseline diabetes mellitus is removed, the risk attributable to hypertension to cause ESRD is almost negligible (0.19%; this number may be actually lower because 8.4% of cases of ESRD in men without diabetes at baseline were classified as diabetic ESRD). Noted that a greater proportion of diabetic men, compared with nondiabetic men, were black (12.6% vs 6%). Diabetic men were also approximately 3 years older on average and had higher blood systolic and diastolic pressures than their nondiabetic counterparts.

The significant decline in kidney function observed in black patients confirmed similar observations by the HDFP. In this study, of the 8000 patients with normal kidney function at outset, only 110 had a significant increase in serum creatinine values over time; the increase was largely confined to blacks. In further agreement with Beevers and Lip's observations outlined above, the patients with the highest serum creatinine levels at presentation had the largest reduction in kidney function, implying that subclinical kidney damage was present from the beginning. Neither the HDFP nor the MRFIT provide information regarding whether participants had proteinuria at presentation. In addition, these studies do not rule out the possibility that patients who progressed had some form of chronic glomerulonephritis because participants did not undergo kidney biopsies.

Zucchelli and Zuccalà (1993) reviewed the cases of 136 patients who were originally diagnosed with benign nephrosclerosis but actually represented a heterogeneous group. [58] In these patients, a thorough diagnostic workup, including kidney biopsy, reconfirmed nephrosclerosis as the correct diagnosis in many of the patients (44%), although 56% of the patients were reclassified as having cholesterol microembolism (29%) or renovascular hypertension (26.5%).

Schlessinger et al (1994) made a similar observation when they reviewed the cases of 233 patients undergoing evaluation as candidates for kidney transplantation. [59] Schlessinger et al found that their referring physicians diagnosed 43 of these patients with ESRD secondary to hypertensive nephrosclerosis. After extensive review of the patients' medical histories, laboratory evaluations, and available kidney biopsy results, the authors concluded that none of the 43 patients met the clinical criteria for hypertensive nephrosclerosis.

A further complication is that many patients already have advanced kidney failure at presentation. Qualheim et al (1991) reported that at the time patients with presumed hypertensive nephrosclerosis first presented to a nephrologist, their serum creatinine values were close to 7 mg/dL in white patients and 9.4 mg/dL in black patients. [60] Diagnosi hypertengnsive nephrosclerosis in these patients can be difficult or impossible because of the inability to identify the initial process. However, in black patients, a closer correlation between clinical and histological diagnoses of hypertensive nephrosclerosis has been reported.

In the AASK, 88 black patients who did not have diabetes or hypertension but who had mild-to-moderate kidney insufficiency and absent marked proteinuria were asked to undergo kidney biopsy. Forty-six patients agreed, and 39 biopsies were performed. The mean arterial pressure of these patients was 109 mm Hg ± 15 mm Hg, and their mean GFR was 52 mL/min ± 13 mL/min. In nearly 85% of the cases, kidney biopsy results showed arteriosclerosis and/or arteriolosclerosis, interstitial fibrosis, thickening of the basement membrane, and global glomerulosclerosis consistent with the clinical diagnosis of hypertensive nephrosclerosis. The conclusion of this study was that in blacks who do not have diabetes or hypertension but who have decreased kidney function and mild proteinuria, kidney biopsy findings are likely to be consistent with the clinical diagnosis of hypertensive nephrosclerosis.

Considering that approximately 60 million individuals with hypertension live in the United States but only 19,000 (1 in 2200) develop ESRD, factors other than hypertension have been postulated to participate in the progression of kidney failure. Hyperlipidemia, insulin resistance, hyperuricemia, immune-mediated factors, and other unrecognized mechanisms may play a role. In this context, hypertensive nephrosclerosis is possibly a disease primarily of the small renal vessels, with glomerular changes being secondary to the vascular process. Autopsy studies of patients with mild, moderate, and severe vascular disease found an independent correlation between glomerulosclerosis and atherosclerosis. Bleyer and Appel (1999) found that 52% of white patients diagnosed with hypertensive nephrosclerosis had at least one form of atherosclerosis at baseline. [61]

Clinical and experimental evidence indicates that histologic lesions indistinguishable from hypertensive nephrosclerosis occur in conditions associated with BP values within the reference range, such as in patients with Bartter syndrome. Nephrosclerosis is also observed spontaneously with aging, especially in patients older than 60 years. Diabetes mellitus markedly increases the presence and severity of nephrosclerosis in all age groups; as such, nephrosclerosis appears to be the common final pathway of several processes that cause injury to small intrarenal vessels.



With regard to the target BP, the Working Group Report on Hypertension and Diabetes recommended a BP goal of less than 130/80 mm Hg to preserve kidney function and to reduce cardiovascular events in patients with hypertension and diabetes. Lower BPs are recommended for patients with proteinuria greater than 1 g/d and kidney insufficiency, regardless of etiology. The optimal BP goal to slow the progression of kidney failure in patients with hypertensive nephrosclerosis currently is unknown.

Hypertensive nephrosclerosis remains a poorly defined entity. Researchers continue to search for a clear definition, a pathophysiologic mechanism, and optimal treatment for patients with this condition. As suggested by Meyrier (1996), hypertensive nephrosclerosis may conceivably be a primary microvascular nephropathy. [62]

Uncontrolled hypertension can accelerate the decline of kidney function in patients with primary renal disease; however, whether mild-to-moderate essential hypertension can cause ESRD in white people is uncertain. The available data do not support the hypothesis that high BP is the only factor determining ESRD in these patients.

Medical treatment is indicated in patients younger than 80 years with BP higher than 140/90 mm Hg. In these patients, antihypertensive treatment has proven to reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular mortality. Data from HYVET showed decreased strokes, heart failure, and all-cause mortality from the treatment of patients older than 80 years with BP less than 160 mm Hg. However, the effect of treatment on kidney function was not assessed, and patients with a creatinine value of greater than 1.7 mg/dL were excluded from the trial.

Evidence for the beneficial effect of hypertension treatment on patients with hypertensive nephrosclerosis is lacking, and many questions regarding the ability of these drugs to protect kidney function in the long term remain unanswered.