Causes of Kidney Damage


What are kidneys?

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs that are about the size of a fist and located at the back of the torso. They are situated under the lower part of the rib cage on each side of the backbone. Their main function is to filter waste from the blood and produce urine that is sent to the bladder.

Kidney damage

Damage to the kidneys (renal damage) is extremely serious and can cause them to lose functionality or begin to fail. This can result in dialysis or other intense treatment options to help the kidneys perform. Renal damage can occur for various reasons, including certain conditions or agents.

Blood clots

Renal vein thrombosis is blood clots in the renal veins or arteries, which can cause damage to the kidneys. These veins are responsible for draining blood from the kidneys. If they become blocked, renal disease or kidney failure is possible.

Cholesterol deposits

Cholesterol deposits can result in kidney damage by blocking the flow of blood to the kidneys. Additionally, if the kidneys are not functioning properly, the body does not manage cholesterol effectively.


Glomeruli are clusters of blood vessels inside the kidneys. Glomerulonephritis occurs when they become inflamed. The inflammation can cause damage that prevents the kidneys from filtering out waste products and excess fluid. Instead, these toxins collect in the body.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome

HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, is a condition most commonly caused by E. coli. It can lead to damage and inflammation in the small blood vessels in the kidneys. This inflammation can result in clots that cause kidney damage by clogging the filtering system.


A kidney infection, or pyelonephritis, often begins in the urethra or bladder. It can travel to one or both kidneys. If left untreated, it can lead to chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. It can also spread into the bloodstream, causing a dangerous infection.


Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the body. It causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s tissues and organs, causing inflammation, swelling, pain and damage to the body. This can result in the kidneys losing function or failing.


Certain medications may prevent the kidneys from properly functioning and may even cause kidney damage. In addition, the active ingredients of certain medications are eliminated from the body through the kidneys; therefore, decreased kidney function can lead to overdose of the medication. These medications can include antibiotics, pain-relievers, corticosteroids, proton pump inhibitors, certain types of chemotherapy medication, and some dyes that are used for imaging tests.


Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that involves hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues, which can affect the kidneys. This includes renal crisis, kidney damage, and kidney failure. Complications involving the kidneys are more likely with diffuse scleroderma, which also impacts skin on the face and areas below and above the elbows and knees.

Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura

Although rare, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP, is a disorder that can cause blood clots to form in the blood vessels throughout the body. If formed in the kidneys, these clots can restrict blood flow, resulting in abnormal kidney function or possible kidney failure.


Certain toxins can cause damage to the kidneys. Examples include cocaine, heavy metals, and alcohol. Heavy metals encompass arsenic, lead and cadmium.

Muscle tissue breakdown

Rhabdomyolysis, also called rhabdo, is a condition in which proteins and electrolytes are released into the bloodstream when muscle tissue is broken down. These toxins can lead to kidney damage and possible failure.

Breakdown of tumor cells

Tumor lysis syndrome, or TLS, can occur suddenly in those undergoing chemotherapy. When cancer cells break apart during or after treatment, the bloodstream can become flooded with toxins and chemicals faster than the body can get rid of them. It is a medical emergency that can result in kidney damage or failure.

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