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Risk Factors

High risk groups for chronic kidney disease (CKD) include those with diabetes, hypertension and a family history of kidney disease. African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Seniors are also at increased risk.

In addition to controlling your blood pressure and glucose levels associated with diabetes, there are other concrete steps you can take to reduce your risk of acquiring chronic kidney disease.

The following is a condensed reprint of information compiled and created by Life Options, a kidney disease research and outreach program. Content appeared on (last updated 03/03/09).

Risk Factors You Can Change


Scarring from infections or a malformed lower urinary tract system (birth defect) can force urine to back up into the kidney and damage it. Blood clots or plaques of cholesterol that block the kidney’s blood vessels can reduce blood flow to the kidney and cause damage. Repeated kidney stones can block the flow of urine from the kidney and are another kind of obstruction that can damage the kidneys.

What you can do: Sometimes blockages can be repaired or opened to help save function in a blocked kidney and kidney stones can be treated. If you know or suspect that you may have a blockage, ask your doctor what can be done about it.

Overuse of Painkillers and Allergic Reactions to Antibiotics

Heavy use of painkillers containing ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), naproxen (Aleve®), or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) have been linked to interstitial nephritis, a kidney inflammation that can lead to kidney failure. A new study suggests that ordinary use of painkillers (e.g., one pill per day) is not harmful in men who are not at risk for kidney disease. Allergic reactions to—or side effects of—antibiotics like penicillin and vancomycin may also cause nephritis and kidney damage.

What you can do: If you routinely take these medications, be sure that your doctor is aware of it—especially if you already have a known kidney problem. When you are taking a new medication, report any new symptoms to your doctor.

Drug Abuse

Use of certain nonprescription drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, can damage the kidneys, and may lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis.

What you can do: If you are using these drugs, know that they can harm your health and seek help to stop. Be honest with your doctor about your medical history—he or she can’t help you without knowing the full story.


Certain illnesses, like glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the filtering units of the kidneys), can damage the kidneys, sometimes enough to cause CKD. Some glomerulonephritis is inherited, and some may be an immune response to infections like strep throat.

What you can do: Having a throat culture for bad sore throats, and treating any strep infection, lowers this risk.

Risk Factors You Can’t Change

Family History of Kidney Disease

If you have one or more family members who have CKD, are on dialysis, or have a kidney transplant, you may be at higher risk. One inherited disease, polycystic kidney disease, causes large, fluid-filled cysts that eventually crowd out normal kidney tissue. Diabetes and high blood pressure can also run in families. Be aware of your family history and share it with your doctor. This can ensure that you are screened for risk factors regularly and get the care you need.


Since kidney function is reduced in older people, the older you are, the greater your risk.

Trauma or Accident

Accidents, injuries, some surgeries, and certain radiocontrast dyes that doctors use to monitor blood flow to your heart and other organs can damage the kidneys or reduce blood flow to the kidneys, causing acute (sudden) kidney failure. Sometimes acute kidney failure will get better, but it may lead to CKD.

Certain Diseases

Having certain diseases puts people at higher risk of kidney disease. These diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus (a connective tissue disease), sickle cell anemia, cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, and congestive heart failure.

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