Authored by Revere Health

What Causes Kidney Disease?

January 25, 2017 | Nephrology

The kidneys are in charge of eliminating waste from our bodies. This waste removal is a process the body needs every single day to prevent harmful waste from damaging other organs and tissues.

When the kidneys are damaged, these wastes stay in the body. This can cause everything from brief swelling to death if left untreated, and can affect anything from digestion to the immune system. This is called kidney disease, and it affects millions of people every year.

There are two primary kinds of kidney disease: acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease. Here’s a look at what causes each kind of kidney disease, and what preventive measures you might be able to take to limit some of these causes.

Acute Kidney Injury

Acute kidney injury refers to the sudden loss of kidney function, and it’s also known as “acute renal failure.” Essentially, acute kidney injury is an isolated incident of kidney disease. There are three main causes of acute kidney injury:


  1. 1. Blood flow loss to the kidneys
  2. 2. Urine backed up in kidneys
  3. 3. Direct trauma to the kidneys


One of these three outcomes can be caused by a few different events:


  • Severe dehydration
  • Blocked urine flow
  • Reaction to certain drugs or toxins
  • Traumatic injury involving blood loss
  • Shock due to severe infection
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Muscle tissue breakdowns, causing a release of damaging protein into the blood


Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is the term applied anytime the kidneys lose function for more than three months. It usually builds up over time, and doesn’t always show many symptoms early on. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can affect the kidneys in serious ways that permanently limit their function.


Other causes of chronic kidney disease include:


  • Urinary tract infections: Inside the actual kidneys. The medical term for these is “pyelonephritis.” It can lead to scarring and inflammation, and infection if not treated properly.
  • Immune system diseases: HIV/AIDS, lupus, viral diseases and various forms of hepatitis can lead to kidney issues.
  • Birth defects: Usually due to problems with the urinary tract in the womb. Some of these can be repaired using surgery early in life.
  • Polycystic kidney disease: An inherited disease where fluid-filled cysts form in the kidneys.
  • Interstitial nephritis: When tubes and structures around the kidney are inflamed or otherwise damaged.
  • Vesicoureteral reflux: Condition where urine doesn’t leave the kidneys, and backs up harmful waste inside them.
  • Drugs: Drugs and other toxins, including some medications, can cause permanent damage to the kidneys.
  • Repeated kidney infections.


Symptoms and complications of chronic kidney disease include:


  • Issues sleeping and constant tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite
  • Swelling in legs, feet and ankles
  • Chronic itching
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary changes – you might urinate much more or much less than usual
  • Issues with mental awareness
  • Issues with pregnancy
  • Heart disease
  • Nervous system damage
  • Bone weakness and breaks
  • Pericarditis (damage to the membrane around the heart)
  • Weakened sex drive
  • Anemia


Treatment for both acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease vary depending on severity and individual factors. Severe cases may require a kidney transplant. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms or are concerned about kidney damage, speak to your doctor right away to find out the best course of action.


Are you concerned about your kidney function? Talk with your primary care physician about seeing a nephrology specialist.



“Understanding Kidney Disease – the Basics.” WebMD.

“Chronic kidney disease.” The Mayo Clinic.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.