Most kidney diseases attack the nephrons, causing them to lose
their filtering capacity. Damage to the nephrons may happen
quickly, often as the result of injury or poisoning. But most
kidney diseases destroy the nephrons slowly and silently. It may
take years or even decades for the damage to become apparent.
The two most common causes of kidney disease are diabetes and
high blood pressure. If your family has a history of any kind of
kidney problems, you may be at risk for kidney disease.
Diabetes is a disease that keeps the body from using sugar as it
should. If sugar stays in your blood instead of breaking down, it
can act like a poison. Damage to the nephrons from unused sugar in
the blood is called diabetic nephropathy. If you
keep your blood sugar levels down, you can delay or prevent
High blood pressure
High blood pressure can damage the small blood
vessels in your kidneys. The damaged vessels cannot filter poisons
from your blood as they are supposed to.
Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication. A group of
blood pressure medicines called ACE inhibitors appears to give
extra protection to the kidneys in patients with diabetes.
Inherited and congenital kidney diseases
Some kidney diseases result from hereditary factors.
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), for example, is a
genetic disorder in which many cysts grow in the kidneys. PKD cysts
can slowly replace much of the mass of the kidneys, reducing kidney
function and leading to kidney failure.
Some kidney problems may show up when a child is still
developing in the womb. Examples include autosomal
recessive PKD, a rare form of PKD, and other developmental
problems that interfere with the normal formation of the nephrons.
The signs of kidney disease in children vary. A child may grow
unusually slowly, may vomit often, or may have back or side pain.
Some kidney diseases may be "silent" for months or even years.
If your child has a kidney disease, your child's doctor should
find it during a regular checkup. Be sure your child sees a doctor
regularly. The first sign of a kidney problem may be high blood
pressure, a low number of red blood cells (anemia), or blood or
protein in the child's urine. If the doctor finds any of these
problems, further tests may be necessary, including additional
blood and urine tests or radiology studies. In some cases, the
doctor may need to perform a biopsy--removing a piece of the kidney
for inspection under a microscope.
Some hereditary kidney diseases may not be detected until
adulthood. The most common form of PKD was once called "adult PKD"
because the symptoms of high blood pressure and renal failure
usually do not occur until patients are in their twenties or
thirties. But with advances in diagnostic imaging technology,
doctors have found cysts in children and adolescents before any
Other causes of kidney disease
Poisons and trauma, for example a direct and forceful blow to your
kidneys, can lead to kidney disease.
Some over-the-counter medicines can be poisonous to your kidneys
if taken regularly over a long period of time. Products that
combine aspirin, acetaminophen, and other medicines such as
ibuprofen have been found to be the most dangerous to the kidneys.
If you take painkillers regularly, check with your doctor to make
sure you are not putting your kidneys at risk.