What causes chronic kidney disease?

How do people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) develop this condition? A variety of causes can damage the kidneys and permanently affect their function. Once your doctor pinpoints the cause of your chronic kidney disease, you can take control of your kidney health.

Diabetes and high blood pressure: leading causes of chronic kidney disease

The two leading causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Less often, the onset of chronic kidney disease can be triggered by congenital and inherited conditions, kidney stones, drugs (legal and/or illegal), inflammation and hardening of the arteries.

Diabetes is a disease where sugar levels are elevated in the blood because the body is not processing sugar properly. High sugar also raises the possibility of bacteria growing rapidly in the kidneys, leading to infection. Because diabetes also negatively affects the nerves, a person with this condition may not feel an urge to urinate until the bladder is overly full. The longer urine remains in the bladder, the greater the risk of infection from bacteria. Over time, these contributing factors can lead to chronic kidney disease.

Diet, weight loss, exercise and medication can impact diabetes. Some people find that weight loss can completely reverse their original diagnosis of diabetes. Your doctor can advise you on the best course of treatment.

High blood pressure is a condition where the flow of blood within veins and arteries exert a higher pressure than normal. Sometimes cholesterol collects on arterial walls, which causes the passageway to get smaller, making blood flow pressure greater. As pressure increases, it also puts a strain on the tiny network of veins within the kidneys, which leads to damaged kidneys. A reading higher than 140 systolic over 90 diastolic is considered high blood pressure. Levels above 120 over 80 but below 140 over 90 indicate you have pre-hypertension and are at a greater risk for developing hypertension.

If your blood pressure is high, your doctor can recommend the right tools to help lower your blood pressure. Exercise, weight loss, dietary modifications and prescribed medication from your doctor can help reduce hypertension.

Other causes of chronic kidney disease

Although some of the causes on the list below may be rare, it is important to identify them as a cause of chronic kidney disease.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited condition that can be diagnosed even in infants. Small cysts grow within the kidneys as a child develops. The cysts can change the size of the kidney and can interfere with healthy kidney function. Polycystic kidney disease may not be diagnosed until adulthood. People with a family history of PKD must be tested to detect this kidney disease early.

Kidney stones are made up of calcium and other minerals normally found in urine. Small masses of these elements are formed into kidney stones. Some people are more prone to stone formation and developed frequent kidney stones that cause damage to the kidneys. Kidney stones sometimes cause obstructions and infection and when they pass through the urinary tract, they cause extreme pain. Drinking lots of water, taking medication prescribed by your physician, and certain treatments can help kidney pass out of the body, usually in the urine.

Illegal drugs have many negative effects on the body, including damage to the kidneys. Heroin users are more likely to develop kidney disease compared to users of other illegal drugs.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can negatively affect the kidneys. Talk to your doctor before you take any type of over-the-counter medicine.

Herbal products may contain ingredients that are harmful to your kidneys. Although the marketing of these products may entice you to try them, be aware there have been numerous cases of kidney damage related to herbal supplements.

Glomerulonephritis, also called glomerular disease, is part of a group of kidney diseases. The kidneys are made up of nephrons and the tiny filters that make up a nephron are called glomeruli. Glomeruli help remove toxins and fluid from the blood. When the glomeruli of the kidney becomes damaged or inflamed, this can lead to kidney disease.

Congenital diseases can occur when a baby is still in the womb. This happens when the urinary tract grows or is shaped abnormally. Duplication of ureters (two ureters instead of one per kidney) and horseshoe kidney (when the kidneys are connected) are congenital diseases. Some people are actually born with only one kidney.

Hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis, is a condition mainly associated with older people, but can develop in childhood. Arteries narrow, or “harden,” when cholesterol containing plaque collects on the walls. Oxygen and blood then have difficulty passing freely throughout the body, thus affecting the kidneys. Sometimes the plaque can dislodge and cause a blockage in the heart or kidneys.

Autoimmune disorders

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect many different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, heart and lungs.
  • Scleroderma is characterized by a hardening and thickening of the skin. When the disease is systemic, it also harms internal organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive tract.
  • Goodpasture’s syndrome is a rare lung disease characterized by hemorrhage within the lungs and damage to the kidneys.

When you find out that you have chronic kidney disease, your doctor can tell you the primary cause of your condition. Whether you have diabetes, high blood pressure or another health condition, it is important to realize what caused your kidney disease so you can get the proper treatment. Controlling your health conditions may help you cope when you’ve been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

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