Kidney Health: Conditions That Affect Your Kidneys

Chronic kidney disease may lead to kidney failure.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

When health problems affect your kidneys, they can cause CKD. This is permanent damage that may get worse over time. If they're so damaged that they stop working, it's called kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). The treatment is usually either dialysis -- when a machine does the work your kidneys normally do, or a transplant -- when you get a new healthy kidney from a donor.

Diabetes damage blood vessels in the kidneys.


This leading cause of kidney failure damages the organs' small blood vessels and filters. That makes it difficult for them to clean your blood. Your body holds on to more salt and water than it should, and there's more waste in your system. Nerve damage caused by the disease can make urine back up and harm your kidneys through pressure or infection.

People who have anorexia nervosa lack sufficient water, electrolytes, and salt, which may damage the kidneys.

Anorexia Nervosa

People who have this have an unrealistic body image, and they don't eat enough to stay at a healthy weight. (They weigh at least 15% less than they should.) That can lead to a lack of water, electrolytes, and salt in the body, which can cause chronic kidney disease and, eventually, kidney failure. This is especially true for people who binge-eat and purge (vomit or use laxatives) to get rid of calories.

High blood pressure weakens blood vessels, including those in your kidneys.

High Blood Pressure

If the force of blood flow through your body is too high, it can stretch and scar -- and weaken -- your blood vessels, including the ones in your kidneys. This can keep them from getting rid of waste the way they should, and the extra fluid in your blood vessels can raise your blood pressure even more, leading to a dangerous cycle. It's treated with medication and changes to things like your diet, exercise habits, and stress level.

High cholesterol clogs blood vessels and that may affect how well your kidneys work.

High Cholesterol

If you have too much bad cholesterol, it can build up in the vessels that carry blood into and out of your kidneys, and that can affect how well they work. It also makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes. A blood test can tell you if your cholesterol level is too high.

Lupus nephritis causes inflammation and scarring of the small blood vessels in the kidneys.


This is a disease that makes your immune system attack certain parts of your body. When it affects your kidneys, it's called lupus nephritis. It causes inflammation and scarring of the small blood vessels that filter waste out of your kidneys, and sometimes in your kidneys as well. It's treated with different medications: Some affect your immune system, while others help control your blood pressure or get rid of swelling and excess fluid.

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the kidneys.

Multiple Myeloma

This kind of cancer involves the white blood cells (plasma) that help you fight infection. The cancer cells build up in your bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells and make abnormal proteins that can cause kidney problems. More than half the people with multiple myeloma also end up with kidney problems.

Bacterial infections and certain medications may lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome which can cause kidney failure.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

This happens when small blood vessels in the kidney and other organs get damaged. That can eventually cause kidney failure. It happens after 5 to 10 days of diarrhea, usually brought on by an infection, like from E. coli bacteria, or certain medications. Most people recover if it's treated quickly. See your doctor if you have several days of diarrhea, aren't peeing often, and are very tired. You also may get bruises or unusual bleeding.

ANCA vasculitis attacks small blood vessels in the kidneys and organs.

ANCA Vasculitis

This is when your own antibodies -- which usually fight germs -- attack the small blood vessels in your kidneys and other organs. It may lead to blood and protein in your urine and can cause kidney failure. You may have fever, body aches, joint and muscle pain, and brown, tea-colored pee.

Urine blockage may signal a problem with your kidneys.

Urine Blockage

If you can't pee, that can mean urine is backed up, and that can damage your kidneys. It can cause pressure and lead to infection in your kidneys and other parts of your body. An enlarged prostate, prostate cancer, kidney stones, bladder cancer, urinary tract blood clots, and colon cancer are some of the things that can cause this. See your doctor if you're peeing much less or much more often than usual or if you see blood in your urine.

Blood clotting disorders may lead to kidney problems.

Blood Clots

Many conditions can cause blood clots, but a blood disorder -- thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura -- is commonly linked to kidney problems. It causes clots in tiny blood vessels that also can affect your brain and heart. Symptoms include fever, bleeding from your nose or gums, diarrhea, chest pain, confusion, headache, bruising, and feeling very tired. It can be serious if it's not treated quickly, so see a doctor if you have any of these signs.

Scleroderma can affect your kidneys and blood vessels.


This is a group of rare diseases that make your skin and connective tissues hard and tight. It can sometimes also harm other things, like blood vessels and organs. If it affects your kidneys and they don't work the way they should, they can let protein escape through your urine. It also can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure that can lead to rapid kidney failure.

Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited condition that damages kidneys.

Polycystic Kidney Disease

This causes cysts -- small sores often filled with fluid -- to grow inside your kidneys. That makes them much larger than they should be and damages their tissue. It's caused by problem genes you get from one of your parents. If it's not diagnosed and managed soon enough, it can lead to chronic kidney disease and, eventually, to end-stage renal disease.



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  • American Journal of Kidney Diseases: "Anorexia Nervosa and the Kidney."
  • American Kidney Fund: "Polycystic kidney disease," "Kidney failure/ESRD," "Chronic kidney disease (CKD)," "Kidney Disease."
  • Mayo Clinic: "Alcohol Abuse Disorder," "Vasculitis," "Multiple myeloma," "Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)," "Acute kidney failure."
  • Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation: "Reduced Kidney Function."
  • National Institutes of Health: "What Is Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura?" "High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease," "Kidney Disease of Diabetes."
  • National Kidney Foundation: "Alcohol and Your Kidneys," "Lupus and Kidney Disease (Lupus Nephritis)," "Cholesterol and Chronic Kidney Disease," "Diabetes -- a Major Risk Factor for Kidney Disease," "Glomerulonephritis."
  • Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura Foundation: "TTP Overview."
  • UNC School of Medicine: "ANCA Vasculitis."
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