Understanding the Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease

Causes of chronic kidney disease pie chart. 44% is caused by diabetes, 29% high blood pressure, 18.4% other, 7% glomerular disease, and 1.6% polycystic kidney disease.


Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure in the US—responsible for 44% of kidney disease cases.

how does diabetes cause kidney disease

Why diabetes can cause kidney disease

Diabetes can impact blood circulation within the glomerulus, a part of the kidney’s blood-filtering system. People with diabetes may also have the following risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Poor glucose control
  • A family history of kidney disease
kidney disease progression from diabetes

How kidney disease progresses with diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

  • Changes in kidney function may begin within 2–5 years after diagnosis of diabetes.
  • Within 10–30 years of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, 30%–40% of people develop late stage kidney disease.

Type 2 diabetes

  • Kidney disease in type 2 diabetes follows a timeline that is similar to type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life.
how to prevent kidney disease with diabetes

What you can do to prevent kidney disease with diabetes

Too much glucose can impact your kidney’s ability to function over time. Make sure you:

  • Eat healthy.
  • Take medication to control glucose levels.


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High blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is the second leading cause of kidney failure in the US. About 29% of kidney failure cases are caused by high blood pressure.

can high blood pressure cause kidney disease

Why high blood pressure can cause kidney disease

High blood pressure weakens blood vessels in the entire body—including the kidneys—which results in a loss of their ability to function.

kidney disease progression with high blood pressure

How kidney disease progresses with high blood pressure

When blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged, they lose their ability to remove waste and extra fluid from the body. Extra fluid raises blood pressure even more—creating a cycle that can lead to kidney failure.
how to prevent kidney disease from high blood pressure

What you can do to prevent kidney disease with high blood pressure

It’s recommended that you keep your blood pressure below 140/90. Here are ways you can keep your blood pressure under control:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Reduce stress
  • Don’t smoke
  • Talk to your doctor about medication


If you're living with one of the conditions that can cause CKD, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Early diagnosis is key to preserving kidney function.



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Glomerular disease

The third leading cause of kidney failure, glomerular disease, is responsible for about 7% of instances of CKD.

can glomerular disease cause kidney disease

Why glomerular disease can cause kidney disease

The glomeruli are tiny filters within each kidney where blood is cleaned. Glomerular diseases damage these important filters so that the kidneys aren’t able to filter waste and fluid properly.
kidney disease progression with glomerular disease

How kidney disease progresses with glomerular disease

With glomerular disease, waste builds up in the blood. Protein and even red blood cells can leak into the urine. When the blood loses its ability to absorb extra fluid, it causes swelling in the body, particularly in the hands and ankles. These stresses on the kidney’s filtering system can eventually lead to kidney failure.
how to prevent kidney disease from glomerular disease

What you can do to prevent kidney disease with glomerular disease

Talk to your doctor to see if any of the following medications could help:

  • ACE inhibitors or ARBs lower blood pressure and stop protein loss in the urine.
  • Diuretics (water pills) treat swelling in your ankles and feet.
  • Corticosteriods can help manage your immune system.

Polycystic kidney disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is passed down through families, and causes about 1.6% of instances of CKD.

Can polycystic kidney disease cause kidney disease

Why PKD can cause kidney disease

PKD causes a buildup of cysts in the kidneys, and these cysts are filled with fluid. When too many cysts develop, or get too big, the kidneys expand and don’t work as they should.
kidney disease progression with pkd

How kidney disease progresses with PKD

PKD gets worse slowly. A person with PKD will have it from birth, but it may take years for symptoms to show. While symptoms can be treated with medication, PKD can still lead to kidney failure. Luckily, people with PKD may be good candidates for a kidney transplant.
how to prevent kidney disease from PKD

What you can do to prevent kidney disease with PKD

Lifestyle changes can help prevent PKD—and CKD—from progressing. Here are some things you can do:

  • Drink plain water.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Get 7–8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Keep blood pressure levels under control.
  • Treat bladder or kidney infections as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that not everyone with PKD will develop kidney failure, but certain people are at an increased risk:

  • Men
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with protein or blood in their urine
  • Women with high blood pressure who have had more than 3 pregnancies

What you can do to prevent kidney disease

Early kidney disease rarely has symptoms. If you are at risk for kidney disease, ask your doctor about screening for CKD and keep track of changes in your health.

What you can do if you have late stage kidney disease

If your doctor has already diagnosed you with late stage kidney disease, it’s time to make a treatment plan. Luckily, you have options with late stage kidney disease and it’s possible to choose one that fits your lifestyle. Let your doctor know what’s important to you, and together you can decide which treatment is best for you.