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Kidney Disease - Some Common Causes

kidney disease

Kidney disease is any condition or disorder that affects the proper functioning of the kidneys. It refers to any unhealthy condition or specific illness that affects the kidneys and impairs kidney function. This could range from mild kidney infection to life threatening conditions, such as kidney cancer.

Signs of early kidney problems are not always obvious and can be easily overlooked or ignored. For example, high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of kidney failure, produces very little early warning signs.

Some diseases are hereditary and are passed on from parents to children. These are sometimes unavoidable and can be very difficult to treat. Others are caused by bacteria that either originate in the body or enter the body from external sources and attack the kidneys and other organs.

By far, however, the vast majority of diseases that cause kidney problems result from improper dietary and harmful lifestyle choices. These are sometimes referred to as lifestyle diseases. In many cases, these can be completely reversed by making timely dietary and lifestyle changes.

Occasionally, one or both kidneys may cease to function properly as a result of factors external to the body, such as severe shock caused by trauma.

Diseases that cause kidney function to decline over an extended period of time (3 or more months), are described as chronic. These are referred to as Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).


There are five (5) stages of chronic kidney diseases. Stage 1 is the least severe while stage 5 represents the most severe. This final stage is also known as end stage renal disease (ESRD). This classification system provides a standard, which offers guidelines for clinical treatment.

Conditions or disorders that result in sudden and rapid decline in kidney function are described as acute.

Some Common Causes of Kidney Diseases

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections contribute to diseases of the kidneys. In fact, the most common form of kidney disease, known as pyelonephritis (inflammation of the kidney), is caused by bacterial infection. Such infections tend to originate in the urinary tract (particularly the bladder), then spread to the kidneys. Urinary Tract Infection is a good example of an infection that begins in the urethra or the bladder, but could also affect the kidneys.

Bacteria that affect other organs can also affect the kidneys. For instance, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis can sometimes travel from the lungs to the kidneys and infect them.​

Kidney Blockage
Kidney blockage

Kidney blockage is another factor that can adversely affect the kidneys. If there is any obstruction within the urinary tract that affects the free flow of urine, it can damage the kidneys.  Hydronephrosis is an example of this.


Blockage can be caused by kidney stones or hereditary defects within the urinary system.  It is also possible for damaged muscles to release large amounts of protein into the bloodstream, blocking the nephrons.  Kidney function can also be affected when the body's immune system is impaired. Antibodies and other substances, which form large particles in the bloodstream, can become trapped in the kidneys' glomeruli, causing inflammation.


Also, prostate enlargement and pregnancy can result is kidney blockage.  Urine stagnation, due to blockage of the urinary tract, increases the risk of infection.

Diet and Lifestyle
Fast foods

Diet and lifestyle choices can profoundly impact kidney health.  Many kidney problems can be avoided or reversed if these two areas are improved.  In many cases, lifestyle diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes can be avoided with proper diet, exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices.


Whatever foods or chemicals we consume or put into our bodies, eventually affect our blood and kidneys (positively or negatively). Since the kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood and maintaining its correct volume and concentration, they will be impacted by components within the blood. So, if we consume foods or drugs (legal and illegal) that are harmful to our body's biological systems, kidney function and general health will decline, leading to diseases.


Hypertension (or high blood pressure) is not only a cause but also a symptom of kidney disease. On average, the kidneys receive over 180 liters (50 gal) of blood each day. This means that they take on a heavy work load of balancing the chemicals in the blood and removing waste products. High blood pressure, therefore, puts more stress on the kidneys and eventually damages them.

The kidneys also play an important role in helping to regulate blood pressure. Hypertension is therefore an indication that the kidneys are not functioning as well as they should.


Diabetes Mellitus is a major cause of kidney disease.  It is caused by malfunctioning pancreas that produces little or no insulin, or the inefficient use of insulin by the body. It affects millions of people and is responsible for almost 4 million deaths every year, worldwide.

Diabetes is sometimes referred to as a lifestyle disease since in many cases, it is completely avoidable. Some simple lifestyle adjustments, such as healthier dietary choices, regular physical activities, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use, can contribute significantly to preventing or delaying the onset of this disease.​

Kidney Stones
Kidney stones

Kidney stones can sometimes cause blockages within the urinary tract, which can damage the kidneys. Tiny stones, sometimes called "silent stones", generally do not cause any problems. They can easily pass undetected trough the ureters (narrow tubes that connects the kidneys to the bladder), into the bladder and eventually out of the body.

Large stones are quite different and can cause severe kidney problems. They tend to get stuck within the urinary tract, restricting the normal flow of urine. This creates pressure on the kidneys and causes severe pain. Eventually, the pressure created by backed-up urine can cause the kidneys to become swollen, damaged and infected.

Kidney Cancer
Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is one of the most serious and potentially deadly forms of kidney disease. It causes the cells in certain tissues of the kidneys to grow abnormally and form malignant tumors. These malignant tumors tend to grow quickly and can easily spread to other organs, by way of the blood or lymph. They readily grow into other tissues and replace healthy cells with malignant cells. While the exact cause is not known with certainty, some studies suggest that persons exposed to chemicals such as cigarette tar, nitrites and numerous industrial chemicals are more likely to develop kidney cancer.

Hereditary Kidney Diseases

Birth defects or hereditary disorders in the kidneys can also cause renal problems. Such defects may cause the kidneys to have abnormal shapes or to function improperly.  The following are examples of hereditary kidney diseases.

Polycystic Kidney
Kidney Cyst

Kidney cyst is one example of a kidney condition that is caused by hereditary or genetic disorder. This condition is not usually classified as a disease, since in most cases it does not affect normal kidney function. There is another condition, however, which is similar to kidney cyst but is much more serious. It is called polycystic kidney disease. This is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of multiple cysts on the kidneys. These cysts can slowly replace much of the kidney tissue, reducing kidney function and ultimately lead to kidney failure.

Alport syndrome
Alport Syndrome

Alport Syndrome is another serious hereditary disorder that not only affects the kidneys, but vision and hearing as well. It is more common in males, with much more severe symptoms. Although some women with this condition display little or no symptoms, they can pass it on to their children.

Kidney Reflux disease
Kidney Reflux

Kidney reflux disease is a condition also caused by hereditary or genetic disorder. It is found mainly in children who inherited it from their parents. It begins in the bladder and eventually affects the kidneys. With this condition, urine is allowed to flow back up towards the kidneys, which can result in serious kidney damage.

sponge kidney
Sponge Kidney

Medullary sponge kidney is a rare kidney disease that causes pools of urine to remain in the kidneys. These pools of urine encourage stone formation and kidney infection. Although some cases of this disorder seem to be inherited, usually the cause is not known.

The causes of kidney conditions are numerous.  Any disease that affects the blood or that can be transported in the bloodstream can also affect the kidneys. The body is a unit of inter-related systems, therefore, diseases that affect other organs or parts of the body can very easily affect the kidney, and vice versa.

By regulating your diet, exercising regularly and getting sufficient rest, you can help to prevent kidney disease and other serious medical conditions.

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