Strategies to reduce the risk of contrast nephropathy: an evidence-based approach

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Purpose of review

Contrast nephropathy is a common complication associated with angiographic procedures that carries significant morbidity and mortality. Recent clinical trials of prophylactic strategies have reported contradictory results. This review presents recent insights into the pathophysiology of contrast nephropathy and reviews trial results in this context.

Recent findings

A prediction rule has been developed to better identify patients at risk of developing contrast nephropathy. Factors other than osmolality play a significant role in the pathogenesis of contrast nephropathy, at least for agents with osmolalities of 800 mOsm/kg or less. New randomized trial data do not support a role for N-acetylcysteine in contrast nephropathy prophylaxis and there is additional evidence that fenoldopam is ineffective. Pooled analyses of theophylline prophylaxis trials are inconclusive. Theoretical and clinical data suggest that ascorbic acid may be renoprotective, but this requires further study.


The overall incidence of contrast nephropathy remains low. Available evidence supports the use of hydration and low volumes of iso-osmolar or low-osmolar contrast in patients at risk of developing contrast nephropathy. Heterogeneity has affected interpretability of interventional trials of N-acetylcysteine or theophylline prophylaxis strategies. Future clinical trials must identify and target moderate-risk to high-risk patients and ensure that proven therapies are included in trial protocols.

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