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What causes kidney disease?

2-minute read

There are many causes of kidney problems. Causes of kidney disease, for example, can include physical injury, infection, cysts in the kidneys, the backward flow of urine from the bladder and hereditary causes. The kidneys can also be damaged by misuse of some painkillers, prescription medicines 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 1 in 3 of all people with diabetes develops 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, an inflammation of the kidneys that can either be inherited or follows 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 your family
  • are very overweight
  • smoke
  • are 60 years or older
  • are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin
  • have injured a kidney in the past

Are you at risk?

Find out if you're at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or kidney disease using our Risk Checker.

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2019


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