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Saudi Journal of Kidney Diseases and Transplantation
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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 261-267
Clinical profile of distal renal tubular acidosis

1 Department of Nephrology, Medwin Hospital, Hyderabad, India
2 Department of Endocrinology, Medwin Hospital, Hyderabad, India

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Date of Web Publication18-Mar-2011


To determine the clinical profile and progression of renal dysfunction in distal renal tubular acidosis (dRTA), we retrospectively studied 96 consecutive cases of dRTA diagnosed at our center. Patients with unexplained metabolic bone disease, short stature, hypokalemia, re­current renal stones, chronic obstructive uropathy or any primary autoimmune condition known to cause dRTA were screened. Distal RTA was diagnosed on the basis of systemic metabolic acidosis with urine pH >5.5 and positive urine anion gap. In those patients who had fasting urine pH >5.5 with normal baseline systemic pH and bicarbonate levels (incomplete RTA), acid load test with ammonium chloride was done. A cause of dRTA could be established in 53 (54%) patients. Urological defect in children (22/44) and autoimmune disease in adults (11/52) were the commonest causes. Hypokalemic paralysis, proximal muscle weakness and voiding difficulty were the common modes of presentation. Doubling of serum creatinine during the study period was noted in 13 out of 27 patients who had GFR <60 mL/min at presentation whereas in only one of the 70 with initial GFR >60 mL/min (P <0.005). In conclusion, urological disorders were the commonest cause of dRTA in children while autoimmune disorders were the commonest asso­ciation in adults. Worse baseline renal function, longer duration of disease and greater frequency of nephrolithiasis/nephrocalcinosis and urological disorders were noted in those who had wor­sening of renal dysfunction during the study period.

How to cite this article:
Jha R, Muthukrishnan J, Shiradhonkar S, Patro K, Harikumar K, Modi K D. Clinical profile of distal renal tubular acidosis. Saudi J Kidney Dis Transpl 2011;22:261-7

How to cite this URL:
Jha R, Muthukrishnan J, Shiradhonkar S, Patro K, Harikumar K, Modi K D. Clinical profile of distal renal tubular acidosis. Saudi J Kidney Dis Transpl [serial online] 2011 [cited 2023 Jan 28];22:261-7. Available from: https://www.sjkdt.org/text.asp?2011/22/2/261/77601

   Introduction Top

Distal renal tubular acidosis (dRTA) is cha­racterized by a heterogenous clinical profile and systemic manifestations with a wide spectrum of biochemical abnormalities depending on the degree of acidification defect and the presence of vitamin D deficiency or renal insufficiency. Age at presentation, duration of disease, nature of underlying primary etiology, and baseline renal function may have an impact on clinical presentation, biochemical profile and eventual outcome. [1],[2],[3] There are few large studies addres­sing this subject. [3],[4]

We aim in this study to characterize the dRTA (complete/incomplete) at our center based on the age at diagnosis and clinical and bio­chemical parameters. In addition, we studied the progression of renal dysfunction and fac­tors contributing to it.

   Subjects and Methods Top

This study was conducted in a tertiary care teaching hospital. Consecutive cases of dRTA treated at our center from 1994 to July 2008 were retrospectively analyzed. A total of 96 cases (48 males and 48 females, age range 3 months to 75 years, mean 22.9 yrs) were studied. Patients were divided based on age into two groups: children <18yrs and adults ≥18yrs. The mean age for the 44 children was 10.6 years (range 3 months to 17 years).

Duration of disease was noted from the onset of initial symptoms that resulted in the diag­nosis of dRTA. Bone pains were considered as significant if they restricted activity and/or re­quired analgesics. Proximal myopathy or qua­driparesis was diagnosed in patients with dif­ficulty in climbing stairs, getting up from squatting position or weakness of all four limbs. Rickets was diagnosed based on wide­ning, cupping and fraying of metaphyseal ends of long bones. Osteomalacia was diagnosed based on presence of looser's zones (pseudo­fractures) on X-rays; correlation with raised al­kaline phosphatase was made in both condi­tions. Short stature was diagnosed in children with height <5th percentile for age and gender based on growth charts approved for the study population. [5],[6] Nephrocalcinosis and nephroli­thiasis were diagnosed by using plain abdo­minal radiographs [Figure 1] and ultrasound evaluation. Obstructive uropathy was diagnosed in patients with voiding difficulty using a mic­turating cystourethrogram and uroflowmetric studies.
Figure 1: Plain radiograph of the abdomen in a case of bilateral nephrocalcinosis

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Patients with unexplained rickets, osteomala­cia, short stature, recurrent renal stones and underlying conditions known to cause dRTA (obstructive uropathy, autoimmune conditions) were screened using fasting urine pH by pH meter. Patients with fasting urine pH >5.5 were subjected to arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis. Serum and urine electrolytes (24 hrs collection) for anion gap calculation were done. Persistent fasting urine pH >5.5 with spontaneous or in­duced metabolic acidosis (pH <7.3, HCO3 <15) were considered to qualify for dRTA.

Metabolic acidosis with dRTA was either a) absent, b) classical normal anion gap, c) wide anion gap and negative Δ gap with reduced estimated GFR (eGFR). Patients with normal plasma anion gap (Na + -Cl - -HCO3 - , normal 12 ± 2) metabolic acidosis with positive urine anion gap (Na + K-HCO3) were diagnosed to have classical complete dRTA. Incomplete dRTA was diagnosed in the absence of systemic acidosis (pH and HCO 3 normal) with positive ammonium chloride loading test in appropriate clinical setting. Patients with reduced eGFR with wide anion gap metabolic acidosis and high urine pH (>5.5) were also included if the Δ change of bicarbonate exceeded Δ change of anion gap (negative Δ gap acidosis as it corro­borates to distal acidification defect).

Patients with serum HCO3 >15 mmol/L were subjected to acid loading with ammonium chlo­ride (0.1 g/kg body weight, in gelatin capsule PO) followed by hourly urine pH for six hours. [7],[8] Plasma pH and bicarbonate was done at two hours to document induced metabolic acidosis (pH <7.3, HCO3 <15). Persistent urine pH >5.5 during the test despite induced meta­bolic acidosis (change of serum bicarbonate by 3 mmol and blood pH <7.3) was taken as po­sitive for dRTA.

Those with baseline wide anion gap meta­bolic acidosis and negative Δ gap associated with renal dysfunction (GFR 30-60 mL/min), where underlying dRTA was suspected, were subjected to furosemide test with oral furo­semide 2 mg/kg body weight with or without fludrocortisone 1 mg, followed by hourly urine pH for six hours. Failure to acidify urine pH to less than 5.5 was taken as positive for dRTA.

Ammonium chloride loading test was done in 36 (16 adults and 20 children). Furosemide test was done in 13 cases (5 adults and 8 children) and two of them with fludrocortisone. The re­maining 47 patients (31 adults and 16 children) with normal AG metabolic acidosis with HCO3 less than 15 mEq/L were not subjected to ammonium chloride or furosemide test.

Urinary calcium and creatinine were calcu­lated on a second voided morning urine sample on a regular diet with no calcium or vitamin D supplementation. Calcium:Creatinine ratio > 0.2 or 24hr urinary calcium > 4 mg/kg body weight was considered as hypercalciuria. Para­thyroid hormone (PTH) levels in 31 and vita­min D levels in 12 patients were available. Pri­mary hyperparathyroidism was diagnosed on the basis of raised corrected serum calcium and simultaneous intact PTH, low-normal phos­phorus with hypercalciuria. Secondary hyper­parathyroidism was suspected in patients with raised PTH in presence of low-normal cal­cium, low to high phosphorus and elevated al­kaline phosphatase (ALP) in an appropriate setting (vitamin D deficiency or low eGFR). Fall in PTH and ALP levels with vitamin D replacement was confirmatory of secondary hyperparathyroidism due to vitamin D defi­ciency. Vitamin D deficiency was diagnosed in patients with serum 25-OH vitamin D levels less than 30 ng/mL.

Diagnosis of fluorosis was based on resi­dence in endemic region, dental fluorosis, os­teosclerosis and interosseous membrane calci­fication [Figure 2]. Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was estimated by Cockroft and Gault equation in adults (corrected to body surface area) and Schwartz formula in children. [9],[10] In patients with hyperkalemia, transtubular pota­ssium gradient (TTKG) was calculated (Uri­nary K + × Serum Creatinine /Serum K + × Uri­nary Creatinine ). TTKG less than 4 was sug­gestive of renal cause of hyperkalemia.
Figure 2: Radiograph of forearm showing calcified interosseus ligament in a case of fluorosis

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Cases with urinary tract infection, diarrhea, respiratory alkalosis, renal transplant and GFR less than 30 mL/min were excluded.

   Statistical Analysis Top

Paired T test for mean and Fisher's exact test for frequencies were used P< 0.05 was taken as significant.

   Results Top

The causes of dRTA were urological in 26 (28%) patients, autoimmune disease in 11 (12%), toxin related in 6, primary hyperpara­thyroidism in 4 and medullary sponge kidney (MSK) in 3; dRTA was diagnosed as a con­genital disorder in 2 cases. The distribution of the causes per age group is shown in [Table 1]. The mean duration of the presenting symptoms of dRTA was 6.5 yrs (SD ± 3.83 yrs) in adults and 4 yrs (SD ± 3.5 yrs) in children. Hyperka­lemia was observed in 7 and hypokalemia in 45 cases. All patients with hyperkalemia had TTKG less than 4 suggestive of renal retention as a cause of hyperkalemia.
Table 1: Etiological conditions causing secondary distal RTA.

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Twelve cases (7 adults and 5 children) had nephrolithiasis and nine (5 adults and 4 chil­dren) had nephrocalcinosis. Hypercalciuria was documented in all of them. Skeletal and dental fluorosis was diagnosed in 5 cases. Vitamin D deficiency was detected in 10 out of 12 pa­tients in whom serum 25-OH vitamin D was done. All of them had bone pains, myopathy and secondary hyperparathyroidism, which res­ponded to vitamin D replacement. The presence of dRTA was reconfirmed in these patients after adequate vitamin D replacement to rule out renal tubular dysfunction due to vitamin D deficiency. [11]

Incomplete dRTA was diagnosed in 4 adults and two children. Bone pains were the promi­nent symptom in these patients. Osteopenia was documented in these adult patients by DEXA scan (T-score-1.0 to-2.4). All these children were documented to have short stature (height < -2SD for age and gender). At initial diag­nosis, GFR was greater than 60 mL/min in 70 and less than 60 mL/min in 26 patients. During the study period, Serum Creatinine doubled in one patient in the former group and in 14 in the latter group (P< 0.005).

All patients responded well to treatment with potassium citrate, vitamin D therapy and so­dium bicarbonate except those with fluorosis. Details of clinical and biochemical parameters are presented in [Table 2] and [Table 3] respectively.
Table 2: Clinical characteristic of distal RTA at presentation.

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Table 3: Biochemical characteristics of distal RTA.

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   Discussion Top

We noted autoimmune diseases as the most frequent underlying cause of secondary dRTA in adults, which is similar to other studies in literature. [12] Associated fluorosis was diagnosed in adult subgroup. Role of fluorosis in renal tubular dysfunction in endemic regions has been documented in an earlier study. [15] Chronic urological defects are known to cause dRTA; [13] 50% of the children in our studyhad under­lying urologic abnormality.

Proximal muscle weakness and hypokalemic paralysis were the dominant presentations in adults; more frequent hypokalemia and osteo­malacia in the adult subgroup possibly contri­buted to greater prevalence of proximal myo­pathy in them. Voiding difficulty and short stature were the predominant presentation in children. Severity of metabolic acidosis, distur­bances of potassium blood levels, nephrocal­cinosis and nephrolithiasis were similar in both age groups. Progressive renal dysfunction in patients with longer disease duration, worse baseline renal function and lack of reversibility after delayed diagnosis in secondary dRTA underlines the need for early diagnosis.

In contrast with the reports from the western literature of symptomatic nephrolithiasis and nephrocalcinosis (77% of the cases) and elec­trolyte disturbances or metabolic myopathy (25% of cases), we have noted greater frequency of hypokalemic paralysis, metabolic myopathy (43%) and bone disease (33%). [4] Nephrocal­cinosis and nephrolithiasis were seen in only 23% of our cases. Previous studies on hypo­kalemic paralysis too have noted greater fre­quency of dRTA as an underlying etiology. [16] High prevalence of proximal myopathy and symptomatic bone disease in addition to less prevalence of renal stone disease in our pa­tients may be related to the frequently asso­ciated vitamin D deficiency.

PTH levels were available for 31 out of 58 patients with symptomatic metabolic bone di­sease and myopathy. Primary hyperparathyroi­dism in 4 patients (3 adults and 1 child) and secondary hyperparathyroidism in 10 (2 adults and 8 children) were diagnosed. The primary hyperparathyroidism patients presented with severe bone pains, proximal myopathy and solitary parathyroid adenoma on parathyroid scintigraphy. Distal RTA in 3 out of these 4 cases completely reverted to normal after surgical cure of primary hyperparathyroidism while lack of recovery in the fourth patient with renal stones was probably due to irrever­sible tubular damage. [14] Hypercalciuria or high PTH per se mediates renal tubular dysfunction in these patients. High frequency of secondary hyperparathyroidism in children correlated with the more frequent finding of symptomatic me­tabolic bone disease in them. All patients with secondary hyperparathyroidism had associated vitamin D deficiency as well and responded symptomatically to vitamin D (cholecalciferol) replacement.

All the patients were treated with potassium citrate with or without spironolactone in case of hypokalemia and sodium bicarbonate in case of hyperkalemia. Surgical treatment of the urological abnormalities and primary hyper­parathyroidism were performed. All patients received oral vitamin D (400 IU) and calcium (500-1000 mg) supplementation. Those with documented vitamin D deficiency were treated with therapeutic doses of vitamin D. Treat­ment of autoimmune conditions followed the existing guidelines. Symptomatic improve­ment of neuromuscular symptoms, bone pain (in adults) and improved growth velocity (in children) were noted in the majority of these cases. Two children received growth hormone therapy with significant growth benefit. [17]

Our study is limited by its retrospective nature and resultant lack of details regarding urinary calcium and citrate excretion, serum vitamin D and PTH status in all patients and a high proportion of cases having developed re­nal dysfunction consequent to underlying pri­mary urological disorder.

We understand that a purist's definition of dRTA would mean complete RTA with nor­mal GFR and not with a variant preceding it (incomplete RTA) or succeeding it (with mild renal dysfunction superimposed). However, these demarcations are blurred in a clinical practice setting where the guiding principles of treatment are similar. Herein lies the strength of study, which has included a spectrum of cases which qualify as dRTA rather than excluding them based on a mere low GFR or incomplete dRTA. Inclusion of children with dRTA is strength of our study as most of the adult cases of dRTA have their onset in child­hood.

Our study shows a high frequency of meta­bolic myopathy, paralysis, and metabolic bone disease in adults and children with dRTA. We noted that even incomplete dRTA was asso­ciated with significant skeletal effects and short stature; this has been documented in earlier studies. [18] Incomplete RTA is to be suspected or considered in the setting of family history of RTA, unexplained osteoporosis or history of calcium stone disease where urine pH is per­sistently above 5.5 in the absence of systemic acidosis. [19] The role of fluorosis and primary hyperparathyroidism in the cause and effect association with dRTA was noted. The patients with longer disease duration had more frequent baseline renal dysfunction. Progressive renal dysfunction was observed more frequently with a worse baseline renal function and pri­mary urological defects. Poor response to the­rapy of dRTA was observed in patients with fluorosis. Effects of disease duration and treat­ment of underlying primary disease on the re­covery from dRTA needs further follow-up studies. Fluorosis needs to be considered as an important risk factor for dRTA in endemic area though its association needs further study.

   Acknowledgement Top

The authors wish to acknowledge the sec­retarial help rendered by Ms. Mrunalini Reddy and Ms. Y. Pushpalatha in preparation of this manuscript.

   References Top

1.Soriano JR. Renal tubular acidosis: The cli­nical entity. J Am Soc Nephrol 2002;13:2160­-70.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Donckerwalcke RA. Diagnosis and treatment of renal tubular disorders in children. Pediatr Clin North Am 1982;29:895-906.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Caldas A, Broyer M, Dechaux M, Kleinknecht C. Primary distal renal tubular acidosis in childhood: Clinical study and long term follow up of 28 patients. J Pediatr 1992;121:233-41.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Caruana RJ, Buckalew VM. The Syndrome of distal (type 1) renal tubular acidosis. Clinical and laboratory findings in 58 cases. Medicine (Baltimore) 1988;67(2):84-99.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Agarwal DK, Agarwal KN, Upadhyay SK, Mittal R, Prakash R, Rai S. Physical and sexual growth pattern of affluent Indian chil­dren from 5 to 18 years of age. Indian Pediatr 1992;29:1203-68.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Agarwal DK, Agarwal KN. Physical growth of affluent Indian children (Birth-6years) Indian Pediatr 1994;31:377-413.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Wrong O, Davies HE. The excretion of acid in renal disease. Q J Med 1959;28:259-313.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Battle DC. Segmental characterization of defects in collecting tubule acidification. Kidney Int 1986;30:546-54.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Cockcroft DW, Gault MH. Prediction of crea­tinine clearance from serum creatinine. Nephron 1976;16:31-41.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Schwartz GJ, Haycock GB, Edelmann CM Jr, Spitzer A. A simple estimate of glomerular fil­tration rate in children derived from body length and plasma creatinine. Pediatrics 1976; 58:259-63.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Taylor HC, Elbadawi EH. Renal tubular aci­dosis type 2 with Fanconi's syndrome, osteo­malacia, osteoporosis, and secondary hyper­aldosteronism in an adult consequent to vita­min D and calcium deficiency: effect of vita­min D and calcium citrate therapy. Endocr Pract 2006;12(5):559-67.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Cohen EP, Bastani B, Cohen MR, et al. Absence of H+ ATPase in cortical collecting tubules of a patient with Sjogrens syndrome and distal renal tubular acidosis. J Am Soc Nephrol 1992;3:264-71.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Jha R, Ramasubba Rayudu B, Jaleel MA, Ku­maresan K. Chronic kidney disease secondary to fluorosis. Nephrology 1997;3(1)S4-99:1708.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Sharma RK, Jha R, Bhatia VL, et al. Secondary distal renal tubular acidosis associated with urological abnormalities. Nephrol Dialysis Transplant 1997;7(2):75-8.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Rao N, John M, Thomas N, Rajarathnam S, Seshadri MS. Aetiological clinical and meta­bolic profile of hypokalemic periodic paralysis in adults: A single centre experience. Natl Med J India 2006;15:246-8.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Muthukrishnan J, Harikumar KV, Jha R, Jha S, Modi KD. Distal renal tubular acidosis due to primary hyperparathyroidism. Endocr Pract (In Press).  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Muthukrishnan J, Kumar JP, Jha R, Modi KD. Growth hormone in chronic kidney disease. Ind J Nephrol 2007;17:182-4.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Sharma PA, Sharma RK, Kapoor R, Alik K, Sural S, Filler G. Incomplete distal renal tu­bular acidosis affects growth in children. Nephrol Dial Transplant 2007;22:2879-85.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Weger W, Kotanko P, Weger M, Deutschmann H, Skrabal F. Prevalance and characterization of renal tubular acidosis in patients with osteo­penia and osteoporosis, Nephrol Dial Transplant 2000; 15(7);975-80.  Back to cited text no. 19

Correspondence Address:
J Muthukrishnan
Department of Endocrinology, Medwin Hospital, Hyderabad - 500001
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 21422623

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