Understanding risk factors of kidney disease

Knowing about the risk factors can help you work out whether you might be more likely to develop chronic kidney disease (CKD). And, while there are some risk factors you can’t do anything about, there are others you can – so understanding the risk gives you the chance to make a few decisions about your health.

What exactly is a health risk factor?

It’s the chance something will negatively affect your health. It doesn’t mean it will definitely happen. Usually, the more risk factors you have affects how likely it is you may develop a condition.

Risk factors for CKD

CKD is most often caused by other conditions that put a strain on your kidneys. It’s usually the result of a few different conditions combining to cause problems. CKD can also sometimes make the underlying conditions worse. The two biggest risk factors are:

  • diabetes – over time, too much sugar (glucose) in your blood can damage your kidneys
  • high blood pressure – puts strain on the small blood vessels in your kidneys and affects the way they work.
Together, diabetes and high blood pressure are factors in two out of three CKD cases.

Other conditions can also be risk factors for CKD.

  • Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is a term that covers a few different problems that affect your heart and blood vessels – and can put strain on your kidneys. These include:
    • coronary artery disease, which means your arteries have become furred up
    • a heart attack (a clot that blocks the flow of blood to your heart)
    • problems with your heart’s muscle, valve or beat, such as heart failure
  • Kidney infections, which can happen when bacteria travel from your bladder into one or both kidneys. If you have lots of kidney infections over a period of years, and they’re not treated, they may cause permanent damage, although this is rare.
  • Long-term, regular use of certain medicines, mainly painkillers such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen. Occasional use isn’t a problem. But if you take them every day for a long time they may harm your kidneys, especially painkillers that combine two or more medicines together with caffeine or codeine.
  • Autoimmune conditions, where the immune system mistakenly attacks your body – in the kidneys, these can cause inflammation and damage to the kidneys’ filters.

Who is more likely to develop CKD?

You’re more likely to develop kidney disease, along with the underlying conditions that cause it, if you:

  • are older – people over 60 years old are at greater risk, and some research has found one in five people over 60 in the UK have some degree of kidney disease
  • have a family history of kidney disease
  • are of Black or South Asian origin.

What should you do if you think you may be at risk?

If you’re worried about your risk of CKD, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor about it.

It can sometimes feel scary talking to the doctor about whether you may be at risk of a serious health condition but it’s important you do if you’re concerned. Your doctor can:

  • carry out tests to check your kidney health – they may find no issues and be able to put your mind at rest
  • check for the underlying conditions linked with CKD
  • make sure any existing conditions are well managed, to reduce the risk of them contributing to CKD
  • advise you about ways to reduce your risk.

We have some pointers on how to talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your risk of kidney disease.

AstraZeneca has contributed to the funding of this material as part of a Patient Advocacy Group Partnership between Kidney Care UK and AstraZeneca UK Limited. AstraZeneca has had no editorial input into or control over the content which has been independently owned and created by Kidney Care UK.