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What Is Perinephric Fat?

Perinephric fat is a protective layer of fatty tissue surrounding the kidneys, cushioning them within the abdominal cavity. This visceral fat plays a crucial role in both kidney stability and insulation. Intriguingly, its thickness can reflect overall health. How does this fat influence kidney function and what happens when its balance is disrupted? Explore the significance of perinephric fat with us.
Clara Kedrek
Clara Kedrek

Perinephric fat, also known as perirenal fat or the adipose capsule of the kidney, is a layer of fatty material that surrounds the kidneys. It plays an important role because it helps to cushion and protect the kidneys. Evaluation of this layer of tissue can be done either by ultrasonography or computed tomography (CT) scanning. Pathologic processes such as infection and cancers can affect this type of fat.

The human kidneys are surrounded by perinephric fat, which is composed of adipose tissue — a collection of fat cells bound together by connective tissue and supplied by blood vessels. This layer of tissue is found outside of the outer surface of the kidney, but under a layer of connective tissue called the renal fascia. Typically, it is less than 1 inch (2.54 cm) in thickness.

A CT scan may be performed to evaluate perinephric fat.
A CT scan may be performed to evaluate perinephric fat.

Perhaps the most important function of this fat is to protect the kidneys. Since the kidneys play a critical role in helping the body maintain a consistent internal environment, from filtering out toxins to balancing the concentration of electrolytes within the blood, these organs need to be safe from damage. The perinephric fat, as well as the paranephric fat that is found outside of the renal fascia, helps to cushion and protect the kidneys.

Kidney ultrasounds are commonly used to examine perinephric fat.
Kidney ultrasounds are commonly used to examine perinephric fat.

In order to examine this layer of fat, a number of imaging studies can be done. One of the cheapest and most sensitive imaging techniques that can be used to examine this layer of adipose tissue is an ultrasound. This technology uses sound waves to elucidate the structures underlying the external surface of the human body, and is therefore cost-effective and relatively harmless. Computed tomography (CT) scanning, which is typically more expensive and more harmful because it exposes patients to ionizing radiation, can also be performed to investigate this tissue.

The human kidneys are surrounded by perinephric fat, which is composed of adipose tissue — a collection of fat cells bound together by connective tissue and supplied by blood vessels.
The human kidneys are surrounded by perinephric fat, which is composed of adipose tissue — a collection of fat cells bound together by connective tissue and supplied by blood vessels.

A number of conditions can cause abnormalities of this fat layer. One of the most common conditions is pyelonephritis, an infection of the kidneys. The fat can become inflamed as a result of this kidney infection. Alternatively, a severe infection could spread throughout the kidney and cause an abscess to develop within this fat. Patients with an infection this severe can be very sick, and typically require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics; in some cases the abscesses have to be drained surgically in order for patients to fully recover from their infections.

The perinephric fat may become inflammed as a result of a kidney infection, and may require antibiotic treatment.
The perinephric fat may become inflammed as a result of a kidney infection, and may require antibiotic treatment.

Another important pathologic process involving the perinephric fat is cancer. A malignancy originating in the kidneys, such as a renal cell carcinoma, can grow and invade into this layer of fat. Knowing whether a cancer has spread into this tissue can have important implications in the treatment and prognosis of a patient with this type of cancer.

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Discussion Comments

Raynbow

Most people have never even heard of perinephric fat, unless they are medically trained or have had biology classes. I learned about perinephric fat in college biology, and found it very interested to see how important this type of fat is in protecting the kidneys.

Heavanet

I have a friend who had abnormalities show up in her perinephric fat on a scan, and found out that she had a kidney infection. Though the initial diagnosis scared her because she was afraid the abnormalities would be something more serious, she was fine once she treated her infection.

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    • A CT scan may be performed to evaluate perinephric fat.
      By: picsfive
      A CT scan may be performed to evaluate perinephric fat.
    • Kidney ultrasounds are commonly used to examine perinephric fat.
      By: jeff gynane
      Kidney ultrasounds are commonly used to examine perinephric fat.
    • The human kidneys are surrounded by perinephric fat, which is composed of adipose tissue — a collection of fat cells bound together by connective tissue and supplied by blood vessels.
      By: London_England
      The human kidneys are surrounded by perinephric fat, which is composed of adipose tissue — a collection of fat cells bound together by connective tissue and supplied by blood vessels.
    • The perinephric fat may become inflammed as a result of a kidney infection, and may require antibiotic treatment.
      By: Syda Productions
      The perinephric fat may become inflammed as a result of a kidney infection, and may require antibiotic treatment.