Focus on family history and chronic kidney disease

Have you had family members with chronic kidney disease (CKD)? You won’t necessarily get kidney disease just because a parent or grandparent had it, but knowing CKD is in your family can give you some useful information and allow you to take steps to lower your risk.

If members of your family have had chronic kidney disease (CKD), are you wondering whether that puts you at risk too?

As with lots of other conditions, people often talk about chronic kidney disease (CKD) running in families. You won’t necessarily get kidney disease just because a parent or grandparent had it. But knowing CKD is in your family can give you some useful information. In fact, it’s always important to know as much as possible about your health and family history, as you can often take simple steps to lower your risk.

Is chronic kidney disease inherited or environmental?

Sometimes, disorders that affect lots of people in a family are caused by gene variants that are passed down from parent to child. There are a few kidney disorders that can be inherited in this way.

But many diseases that seem to run in families aren’t inherited. Instead, they’re the result of what experts call environmental factors. This means any risk factors in your home or wider community you might share with other family members, including:

  • eating and exercise habits
  • exposure to pollution in the environment
  • employment and income
  • housing
  • access to healthcare

For example, if you grew up in a family where people smoked, ate a lot of fatty, sugary foods and didn’t exercise much, you might have a similar lifestyle – which may put you at risk of conditions that cause CKD, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

It can be really difficult for people to have a healthy lifestyle. Nutritious food can be expensive and lots of people don’t have access to things like green spaces where they can exercise. This may be one of the reasons CKD is more common in certain communities.

Often, a combination of genes and environmental factors come together to cause CKD and the conditions linked to it.

Inherited kidney diseases

Experts know of more than 60 inherited kidney diseases that can lead to CKD. Some are very rare.

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is the only common one. It results in lots of fluid-filled cysts in your kidneys that start to cause problems when they get bigger (usually in your 30s or later). Typical symptoms include tummy pain, blood in your wee and high blood pressure.

If any close relatives (a parent, sibling or grandparent) have had an inherited kidney disease, you should be eligible for genetic testing, so speak to your doctor.

4 steps to take now if CKD runs in your family

Talk to your doctor

If a family member has had kidney disease or a transplant, see your doctor to talk about your risk. They may suggest some tests to see whether you have any signs of CKD or conditions that are linked to it, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. They’ll also check whether you’re at risk of developing them.

Lots of people worry about finding out they’re at risk of a serious condition. But it’s a sensible step to take because once you know, there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk. And, if you’re showing early signs of any of these conditions, you can get treatment to stop them getting worse.

Make healthy lifestyle changes

You can’t change your genes. But you can make healthier choices every day to reduce your risk of CKD and related conditions – even if you have family members affected by it. The main ones are:

  • keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range
  • managing blood glucose if you have diabetes
  • having a diet low in salt and fat
  • not smoking
  • losing weight if you need to
  • staying active
  • keeping alcohol within recommended limits.

Talk to your family

You’d probably know if there was a history of heart problems or cancer in your family. But most of us don’t talk about kidney health in the same way. Why not start a conversation with other family members about their risk of kidney disease? You could suggest they take our quiz.

Make healthy changes together

A lifestyle that’s good for preventing kidney problems is good for everyone’s overall wellbeing.

The whole family can benefit when you make changes to your diet, exercise and other habits. You don’t have to make separate meals or have a special routine. And making lifestyle changes isn’t always easy, so it’s often helpful to have support from friends and family – for example, perhaps someone could be a walking buddy.

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.