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Kidney Damage Causes

By J. Lucy Boyd ; Updated July 18, 2017

Most humans have two kidneys, vital organs that are a part of the urinary system. The kidneys filter wastes, keep a proper fluid balance in the body and help maintain blood pressure. They are susceptible to both sudden, acute damage and long-term chronic damage. One or both kidneys can be damaged; it is possible to survive with only one functioning kidney. People with severe bilateral kidney damage require dialysis to filter the waste from their blood.

High Blood Pressure

The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse notes that high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney disease. Damage can happen suddenly, due to severe hypertension, but more often occurs as the result of long-term untreated or poorly treated high blood pressure.


Diabetes is another leading cause of kidney disease. Often called diabetic kidney disease, it occurs due to the harmful long-term effects of high blood sugar, or glucose, on the kidneys.

Decreased Blood Flow

The kidneys need an adequate blood flow to remain healthy. MedlinePlus explains that a decrease in the circulation to the kidneys can cause acute, or sudden, kidney failure. Common causes of decreased blood flow include a hemorrhage, a major burn, shock or a life-threatening illness. Severe dehydration due to poor fluid intake or hot ambient temperatures can also lead to compromised blood flow to the kidneys.


Several drugs can potentially harm the kidneys, especially in an individual with a predisposition to kidney problems. Antibiotics, cyclosporine, chemotherapy drugs, osteoporosis medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are among the drugs that can damage susceptible kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation points out that crack and heroin can also cause chronic kidney damage.


Severe infections can take a toll on kidney function. Urinary tract infections, septicemia and acute polynephritis are responsible for many cases of kidney damage.

Congenital Diseases

Kidney damage may be attributable to a number of inherited and congenital diseases. Polycystic kidney disease is a condition in which numerous small cysts interfere with kidney function. Vesicoureteral reflux is a condition present at birth in which urine flows from the bladder to the kidneys. Left untreated, kidney damage can result, reports the Mayo Clinic.

Auto-Immune Disorders

Several kidney diseases manifest as auto-immune disorders. Put simply, the body attacks itself, resulting in permanent kidney damage. According to MedlinePlus, interstitial nephritis and acute nephrotic syndrome are two types of auto-immune disorders that stress the kidneys.

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