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Renal papillary necrosis


Renal papillary necrosis is a disorder of the kidneys in which all or part of the renal papillae die. The renal papillae are the areas where the openings of the collecting ducts enter the kidney, and where the urine flows into the ureters.

Alternative Names

Necrosis - renal papillae; Renal medullary necrosis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Renal papillary necrosis usually occurs with analgesic nephropathy. However, a number of other conditions can cause it, including:

Sickle cell anemia is a common cause of renal papillary necrosis in children.


Tissue death (necrosis) of the renal papillae may make the kidney unable to concentrate the urine. Symptoms may include:

Other symptoms that may ocur with this disease:

Signs and tests

The area over the affected kidney (in the flank) may feel tender during an exam. There may be a history of urinary tract infections. There may be signs of obstructive uropathy or kidney failure.

A urinalysis may show infection or dead tissue in the urine.

An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) may show a blockage or tissue in the renal pelvis or ureter.


There is no specific treatment for renal papillary necrosis. Treatment depends on the cause. For example, if analgesic nephropathy is the cause, your doctor will recommend that you stop using the medicine that is causing it. This may allow the kidney to heal over time.

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a person does depends on what is causing the condition. If the cause can be controlled, the condition may go away on its own. In some cases, persons with this condition develop kidney failure and will need dialysis or a kidney transplant.


Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • You have bloody urine
  • You develop other symptoms of renal papillary necrosis, especially after taking over-the-counter pain medications


Controlling diabetes or sickle cell anemia may reduce your risk. To prevent renal papillary necrosis from analgesic nephropathy, be careful when using medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers.


Kanso AA, Abou Hassan NM, Badr KF. Microvascular and macrovascular diseases of the kidney. In: Brenner BM, ed. Brenner and Rector's the Kidney. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 32.

Porter CC, Ayner Ed. Hematologic diseases causing hematuria. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III. Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 514.

Review Date: 9/20/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Herbert Y. Lin, MD, PhD, Nephrologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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