Patients with renal tubular acidosis (RTA) have a low arterial pH and low serum bicarbonate with hyperchloremia and a normal serum anion gap.
Inherited (primary) classic distal RTA (type I) most often results from mutations of the genes for the renal apical membrane H-ATPase proton pump or the basolateral membrane anion exchanger AE1 gene.
The urine pH exceeds 5.5 in classic distal RTA, but is less than 5.0 in patients with untreated proximal RTA. Urine pH is also low in hyperkalemic distal RTA.
Proximal RTA (type II) occurs most often as a component of Fanconi syndrome, which is characterized by generalized dysfunction of the proximal tubule, with the resultant urinary loss of bicarbonate, calcium, phosphate, urate, amino acids, glucose, and other organic acids and bases.
Type III is a combination of proximal and distal RTA. Carbonic anhydrase II deficiency and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors block intracellular metabolism of bicarbonate and carbonic acid.
Defining characteristics of hyperkalemic (type IV) distal RTA are clinically significant hyperkalemia and the absence of the normal negative urine anion gap.
Adult patients with RTA are often asymptomatic but may present with muscular weakness related to associated hypokalemia, nephrocalcinosis, or recurrent renal stones.
Alkali therapy is the mainstay of treatment in all forms of RTA.
If hyperkalemic distal RTA is due to mineralocorticoid deficiency, fludrocortisone can be given unless it is contraindicated due to the presence of fluid overload or uncontrolled hypertension.
Correction of the hyperkalemia in hyperkalemic distal RTA often improves both urinary acidification and metabolic acidosis.
The term renal tubular acidosis (RTA) describes any one of a number of disorders, in which the excretion of fixed acid (distal RTA) or the reabsorption of filtered bicarbonate (proximal RTA) is impaired to a degree that is disproportionate to any existing impairment of the glomerular filtration rate. The acid retention or bicarbonate loss results in the development of hyperchloremic metabolic acidosis marked by hypobicarbonatemia and depressed arterial blood pH. In the absence of other acid-base disorders the serum anion gap is normal. Either hypokalemia or hyperkalemia may be present, depending on the nature of the acidification defect.
Fanconi syndrome is characterized by a generalized dysfunction of the renal proximal tubule that results in the urinary loss of substances normally reabsorbed by the kidney at this site. The substrates lost include bicarbonate, glucose, amino acids, phosphate, small proteins and peptides, and organic acids and bases. Salt wasting, volume depletion, and potassium wasting often develop as secondary effects. The pathophysiologic basis of these abnormalities depends upon the specific cause of the individual patient’s Fanconi syndrome.
History and exam
- sensorineural hearing loss
- liver dysfunction
- osteopenia, osteopetrosis, nephrocalcinosis, and cerebral calcifications
- Kussmaul breathing
- ocular abnormalities (cataracts, glaucoma, band keratopathy), growth retardation, impaired intellect, and calcification of basal ganglia
- urinary tract obstruction
- diabetes mellitus
- primary biliary cirrhosis
- amphotericin-B therapy
- toxic exposure to heavy metals, and cis-platinum
- untreated adrenal insufficiency
- environmental exposure in the Balkans
- older men
- family history of inherited RTA
- hereditary fructose intolerance
- Wilson disease
- disorders of mitochondrial metabolism
- glycogen storage diseases
- Lowe syndrome
- lead exposure
- cadmium exposure
- ifosfamide therapy
- cyclosporine therapy
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blocking drugs
- heparin therapy
- medications interfering with sodium transport
- use of carbonic anhydrase inhibitors
- abnormalities of filtered immunoglobulins
- interstitial nephritis
- Thai or southeast Asian ancestry
- outdated tetracycline
- cis-platinum therapy
- toluene, paraquat, lysol exposure
- Balkan heritage
- Dent disease
- ibuprofen overdose
- antiviral therapy (cidofovir, adefovir, or tenofovir)
- serum aldosterone
- urine anion gap
- measurement of fractional bicarbonate excretion
- urine PCO2 bicarbonate infusion
- furosemide test
- ammonium chloride loading test
- furosemide and fludrocortisone test
- urine glucose
- tubular maximum (Tm) reabsorption of phosphate
- fractional excretion of amino acids
- CT/spiral CT
- nuclear renal scan
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
MEL declares that he has no competing interests.
Dr Melvin E. Laski would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr Elizabeth Cobb, Dr Rebin Titus, and Dr Abeer Kaldas, previous contributors to this topic.
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