Understanding Kidney Disease Risk Factors & Causes

Risk Factors & Causes

Your age, weight, family history, overall health, and even your ethnicity, may put you at greater risk for kidney disease.

If you have any of the risk factors described below, make sure you talk to your doctor about your kidney health and get tested as soon as possible.

Family history or background
    Family history or background
  • Someone in your family has kidney disease
  • You are older than 50
Health issues
  • You are of South Asian origin. This risk is due in part to high rates of diabetes and blood pressure in these communities.
  • Overuse of medications with ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen
  • Chronic use of street drugs
Understanding causes of kidney disease

Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) are the most common causes of kidney disease, but there are also other less common conditions that can cause kidney disease.


Diabetes can impact blood circulation within the glomerulus, a part of the kidney’s blood-filtering system. People with diabetes may also have other risk factors including high blood pressure (hypertension), poor glucose control, and a family history of kidney disease.

Changes in kidney function may begin within 2-5 years after diagnosis of diabetes. Within 10-30 years of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, 30%-40% of people develop late stage kidney disease. Kidney disease in type 2 diabetes follows a similar timeline to that of type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) weakens blood vessels in the entire body – including the kidneys – which results in a loss of their ability to function.

When blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged, they lose their ability to remove waste and extra fluid from the body. Extra fluid raises blood pressure even more – creating a cycle that can lead to kidney failure.

Glomerular disease

The glomeruli are tiny filters within each kidney where blood is cleaned. Glomerular diseases damage these important filters so that the kidneys aren’t able to filter waste and fluid properly.

With glomerular disease, waste builds up in the blood. Protein and even red blood cells can leak into the urine. When the blood loses its ability to absorb extra fluid, it causes swelling in the body, particularly in the hands and ankles. These stresses on the kidney’s filtering systems can eventually lead to kidney failure.

Polycystic kidney disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) causes a build-up of cysts in the kidneys, and these cysts are filled with fluid. When too many cysts develop, or get too big, the kidneys expand and don’t work as they should.

PKD gets worse slowly. A person with PKD will have it from birth, but it may take years for symptoms to show. While symptoms can be treated with medication, PKD can still lead to kidney failure. Luckily, people with PKD may be good candidates for a kidney transplant.

Early detection can make a difference

The sooner your doctor can confirm a diagnosis for kidney disease, the earlier you can get started on a treatment plan that may help preserve kidney function and slow progression of damage.

What you can do to prevent kidney disease

Learn what you can do to keep your kidneys healthy. Early kidney disease rarely has symptoms. If you are at risk for kidney disease, talk to you doctor about testing for kidney disease and keep track of changes in your health.

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