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What causes kidney disease?

There are many different things that can cause problems with the kidneys. Causes of kidney disease include physical injury, infection, cysts in the kidneys, the backward flow of urine from the bladder, or hereditary causes. The kidneys can also be damaged by misuse of some pain killers and legal and illegal drugs.

What are the most common causes of kidney disease?

The most common cause of kidney disease in Australia is diabetes. This is sometimes called diabetic nephropathy. About one-third of all people with diabetes develop kidney disease when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, stopping them from filtering wastes properly.

High blood pressure can also lead to kidney disease. So can glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidneys that can be inherited or can follow an infection.

Risk factors for kidney disease

Some people are more likely to get kidney disease than others. You are more likely to get kidney disease if you:

  • have diabetes
  • have high blood pressure
  • have heart failure, or have had a heart attack or stroke
  • have kidney disease in the family
  • are very overweight
  • smoke
  • are 60 years or older
  • are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Even if one or more of these things applies to you, there are many things you can do help manage your risk of kidney disease. See preventing kidney disease.

Last reviewed: February 2017

Need more information?

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Education programmes for people with diabetic kidney disease | Cochrane

Adherence to complex regimens is often poor in patients with diabetes and chronic kidney disease (DKD). Interventions to enhance adherence require both intensive education and behavioural counselling. This review looked for randomised trials (RCTs) comparing education programmes with other strategies in patients with DKD. Only two studies involving patients with DKD were identified. Although education programmes seemed to have some beneficial effects on improvement of patients' knowledge of diabetes, self-efficacy, belief changes and self-management behavioural changes, the small (207) numbers of patients enrolled in the two identified studies and their low methodological quality resulted in cautious assessment. Larger, high-quality RCTs are needed.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

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Over time poorly controlled diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys.

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Translations | Kidney Health Australia

Kidney Health Australia, recognising a need in the community, has produced some simplified versions of our key fact sheets in several languages: Arabic, Burmese, Chinese (Cantonese & Mandarin), French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Kirundi, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Maltese, Samoan, Spanish, Tongan and Vietnamese

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Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is a debilitating chronic disease in its own right, but can also contribute to, or be impacted by, other prominent chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus.

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