What Is a Renal Biopsy?

Glyn Sinclair

A renal biopsy is a medical procedure whereby a small tissue sample of the kidneys is taken for diagnostic purposes. Patients that present with symptoms of kidney disease are often candidates for renal biopsy and it is typically performed when other less invasive procedures are not conclusive enough. The surgeon may use ultrasound to point him to the precise area on the kidneys to perform the biopsy. A needle will be inserted into the kidney through the skin and the procedure can take up to 30 minutes. Medication is typically administered and the patient will be asked to lay flat on a bed for at least eight hours after the operation.

Kidneys and blood vessels.
Kidneys and blood vessels.

There are a number of reasons a physician will order a renal biopsy. These can include blood in the urine, low blood albumin levels in conjunction with swelling in the extremities, and renal failure. Many times renal failure is obvious but the procedure may be performed just to be certain. The biopsy is generally performed while the patient is awake with just a local anesthetic to numb the pain. The needle is usually guided through the skin on the back and into the kidney.

Surgeons may require patients to receive a renal ultrasound before conducting a renal biopsy.
Surgeons may require patients to receive a renal ultrasound before conducting a renal biopsy.

The patient usually will abstain from eating or drinking before the renal biopsy. Pain is kept at a minimum due to the local anesthetic and post-procedure pain medication. Blood may be present in the urine for 24 hours after the procedure and if it continues for longer than this it is recommended to contact a doctor. There is a small risk of infection after renal biopsy and people presenting with fever and excessive pain should also consult with their doctor. It is recommended that patients not lift heavy objects or exercise for at least two weeks after the procedure.

Abnormal test result may be due to a number of conditions. Some of these could include diseases such as an autoimmune disorder, infection and restricted blood flow. Another factor could be due to lupus nephritis, which is when the kidneys become inflamed and can potentially damage the skin and joints as well as the brain. Diabetic nephropathy is another reason for abnormal renal biopsy results. This refers to a kidney disease that typically presents in people suffering from diabetes.

Patients should look out for other potential side effects after a renal biopsy. Sustained pain could point towards a blood clot blocking the ureter, which is an internal conduit that flows to the bladder. Damage to nearby arteries from the biopsy needle is another potential side effect. Anyone experiencing prolonged pain after a renal biopsy should not hesitate to contact their doctor.

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