All That Glitters Yellow Is Not Gold: Presentation and Pathophysiology of Bile Cast Nephropathy

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Background. Acute kidney injury (AKI) often manifests in patients with liver disease because of a prerenal cause and presents as acute tubular necrosis or hepatorenal syndrome. Distinguishing between these entities is important for prognosis and treatment. Some patients may develop AKI related to their underlying liver disease: for example, membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis or IgA nephropathy. Bile cast nephropathy is an often ignored differential diagnosis of AKI in the setting of obstructive jaundice. It is characterized by the presence of bile casts in renal tubules, which can possibly cause tubular injury through obstructive and direct toxic effects. Thus, AKI in patients with liver disease may have a structural component in addition to a functional one. Methods. In this study, we describe 2 patients with severe hyperbilirubinemia who developed AKI and underwent a kidney biopsy that revealed bile casts in tubular lumens, consistent with bile cast nephropathy. Results. One patient was treated aggressively for alcoholic hepatitis and required hemodialysis for AKI. The second patient was treated conservatively for drug-induced liver injury and did not require dialysis. Both patients saw a reduction in their bilirubin and creatinine toward baseline. Conclusion. Bile cast nephropathy is an important pathological entity that may account for the renal dysfunction in some patients with liver disease. It requires kidney biopsy for diagnosis and may often be overlooked given the scarcity of kidney biopsy in this particular clinical setting. The etiology is multifactorial, and it is often difficult to predict without the aid of a renal biopsy.

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