Authored by Revere Health

What is Diabetic Nephropathy?

February 8, 2017 | Nephrology


The organs and tissues in the human body are connected in many ways. In fact, conditions that affect one part of the body can actually be the cause or risk factor of diseases in other parts of the body.

Heart disease can cause varicose veins, a condition of the legs, and diabetes can affect various parts of the body like the feet, eyes and kidneys. Diabetic nephropathy, for example, is a serious form of kidney disease that’s caused directly by diabetes. It’s the kidneys’ job to filter and remove waste the body no longer needs, but diabetic nephropathy stops some of these processes from happening over a period of several years. In many cases, this kidney disease can lead to kidney failure.

Many of the best strategies to combat diabetic nephropathy involve preventive lifestyle measures that reduce the risk of diabetes. Taking the right steps early in life can prevent more serious conditions later on.


Causes and Risk Factors

Diabetic nephropathy is caused by type 1 and 2 diabetes. Diabetes is related to high blood sugar levels, which increase blood pressure. As a result, high blood pressure increases the overall pressure on the kidneys’ filtration system. If they undergo too much pressure, the kidneys stop working correctly. Up to 40 percent of diabetes patients will develop diabetic nephropathy.

Risk factors of diabetic nephropathy include:

  • Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol, blood sugar or blood pressure
  • Family history of diabetes or kidney problems


Symptoms and Complications

There are several symptoms associated with diabetic nephropathy, but most aren’t present in the early stages. In the later stages, symptoms you might see include:

  • Swelling, first in feet and legs and eventually all over the body
  • Protein content in urine
  • Appetite and weight loss
  • Tiredness and difficulty sleeping
  • Less need for insulin or other diabetic medicine
  • Confusion
  • Itching
  • Nausea


Diabetic nephropathy can even be the cause of other ailments as well as the result of diabetes. Some common complications include:

  • Heart and blood vessel disease, or stroke
  • Anemia
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Kidney failure, often requiring a kidney transplant
  • Problems with damaged nerves, including erectile dysfunction
  • Problems in the retina or eyes



Your doctor will perform a basic physical exam and ask about your family history, especially as it relates to diabetes and the kidneys. These are tests often used for diagnosis:

  • Urine tests for protein levels
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging: CT scans, MRIs or X-rays
  • Biopsy: Removing a sample of kidney tissue to test in a lab, usually under anesthetic
  • Renal function: Tests that determine how well your kidneys are working



For patients with diabetes, managing the symptoms and making smart lifestyle choices can help prevent diabetic nephropathy. For those who develop diabetic nephropathy, treatment can include:

  • Medicine: Different medications can help manage early stages of diabetic nephropathy. They can assist with blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, protein content in urine and bone density.
  • Transplant: In later stages, this is often the best option.
  • Dialysis: This is a machine that works like a kidney to help filter waste when your own kidneys can’t function correctly. It can be used either in the home or at a facility.

Diabetic nephropathy is a serious condition and requires medical attention. If you have diabetes, make sure to talk with your doctor about preventing its onset.


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



“Diabetic Nephropathy – Topic Overview.” WebMD.

“Diabetic nephropathy.” The Mayo Clinic.


The Live Better Team

Telehealth is not appropriate for every medical concern, so it’s important to ask your provider whether a virtual visit is suitable for your needs.

Learn more about Telehealth

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.