Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy: Epidemiology, Clinical Presentation, and Treatment

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Aristolochic acid (AA) is a compound extracted from the Aristolochia species of herbs. It has been used for centuries as a remedy for various illnesses and diseases. However, in the early 1990s in the setting of a weight loss herbal remedy, AA exposure was associated with a syndrome of kidney injury, termed aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN). This entity is marked by elevated serum creatinine, significant anemia, and histopathologic changes demonstrating a hypocellular interstitial infiltrate with severe fibrosis. Progression towards end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is rapid, with most patients having chronic kidney disease for less than 2 years. In addition, AAN is associated with a 40-45 % prevalence of urothelial carcinomas. Treatment of AAN is limited to glucocorticoids that have been shown to delay progression in non-randomized trials. As most patients progress to ESRD, need for renal replacement therapy, as either dialysis or kidney transplant, usually ensues. However, given the high malignant potential, care must be taken to minimize future development of upper urinary tract cancers by performing prophylactic bilateral nephroureterectomies and aggressive cancer surveillance.

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