Causes of CKD

Learning about the root causes of kidney disease can help you get the right treatment and potentially preserve remaining kidney function. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease and High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is the second leading cause. Glomerulonephritis, a general term for many types of kidney inflammation, as well as genetic diseases such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), autoimmune diseases, birth defects and other problems can also cause kidney disease.


Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease, responsible for approximately 44 percent of all kidney failure cases. Diabetic nephropathy is the kidney disease that occurs as a result of diabetes. Nephropathy means kidney disease or damage. Each of your kidneys has about one million nephrons. Nephrons are small structures that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can cause the nephrons to thicken and scar, which makes them less able to filter waste and remove fluid from the body. This causes them to leak a type of protein called albumin into your urine, leading to diabetic nephropathy. This is more likely to occur if the blood sugar is poorly controlled.

Diabetes is a disease that affects your body’s ability to produce or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone. When your body turns the food you eat into energy (also called sugar or glucose), insulin is released to help transport this energy to the cells. Insulin acts as a “key.” Its chemical message tells the cell to open and receive glucose. If you produce little or no insulin, or are insulin resistant, too much sugar remains in your blood. Blood glucose levels are higher than normal for individuals with diabetes.

Diabetes is a risk factor for renal disease, but it does not mean your kidneys will fail if you have diabetes. You can care for your kidneys by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure. If you develop for any sign of kidney failure, you can work with your doctor to keep your kidneys working for as long as possible.


High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is the second leading cause of CKD.

Blood travels away from the heart through special blood vessels, called arteries to all parts of the body. The pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps is what is measured. The blood pressure measurement has two numbers: a top one, and a bottom one. The top number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart pumps blood out. The bottom number (diastolic) is the pressure when the heart relaxes before the next beat.

When blood pressure is high and left untreated, it can damage the blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. The smaller blood vessels are the ones usually affected first. Kidneys have small blood vessels that can become damaged by high blood pressure. This can lead to CKD. Renin is a hormone produced by the kidneys. When the kidneys are not working properly, they may release renin causing blood pressure to go up even higher.

A blood pressure reading lower than 120/80 is desirable. Lower readings are usually found in children and adults who are in excellent physical condition. A person’s blood pressure is considered high if the top number is higher 140 and the bottom number is higher than 90. Make sure you visit your doctor regularly for routine checkups, which should include a blood pressure check. By controlling the things you can, and following your doctor’s advice, you help to keep your blood pressure within normal limits and protect your kidneys.


The kidneys are made up of millions of nephrons that allow for the removal of extra fluid and waste out of the blood. All these nephrons consist of tiny filters called glomeruli, which remove toxins and fluid from the blood, and tubules that process the removed fluid and turn it into urine.

Glomerulonephritis, also called glomerular disease, is a group of kidney diseases in which the glomeruli of the kidney become damaged and inflamed. Glomerulonephritis makes it hard for the kidneys to work as they should. This commonly results in the loss of protein out of the blood, and both red and white blood cells in addition to protein may leak into the urine. Some people with glomerulonephritis will lose their ability to filter waste and many will retain fluid. Eventually, some people with glomerulonephritis may develop chronic kidney disease (CKD) or end stage renal disease (ESRD) and have to begin a renal replacement therapy such as dialysis treatment.

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is the number four cause of kidney failure in Americans. Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is by far the most common form of PKD (90 percent of all cases) and runs in families. It is passed from parent to child, and the odds are 50/50 of a child inheriting it from an affected mother or father. Autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD) is rare and strikes infants, sometimes even before birth. It is also known as “infantile PKD” and affects about one out of every 10,000 people in the U.S. Both parents must be “carriers” of the ARPKD gene to pass it to a child, and each of their children has a one in four chance of getting the disease.

If you think you are at risk for CKD or are experiencing symptoms of this disease, talk to your doctor. The earlier the disease is found, the better the chances of treating it and preserving kidney function.