Do you know the cause of your kidney disease?
If you don’t (and even if you do!) please read on. I’m a firm believer that in order to heal yourself and treat any disease, you FIRST need to understand it. If you don’t understand it, how will you know what you need to do to treat it?
Types of Kidney Disease
As you may know, there are two types of kidney disease: Acute kidney injury (AKI), formerly called Acute renal failure (ARF) and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) which can lead to Chronic Kidney Failure (CRF). Each has its own causes but today we’re going to focus on Chronic Kidney Disease and it’s most common causes.
Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease
Worldwide, diabetes is the most common cause of CKD and the most frequent cause of end stage renal failure in most countries. Approximately 25-40% of people with diabetes develop diabetic kidney disease (also called diabetic nephropathy) within 20-25 years of the onset of their diabetes.
How does diabetes cause kidney disease?
Well, the way that diabetes causes kidney disease is threefold:
- Damaged blood vessels- high sugar levels in the blood causes the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys to become narrow and clogged, essentially cutting off the blood supply to the kidneys, reducing their function and causing death of tissue.
- Damaged nerve supply- high blood sugar levels cause the nerve supply to the bladder to become weakened and uncommunicative with the rest of the body. Therefore, as the kidneys begin to excrete urine and urine builds up in the bladder, the nervous system’s messenger system gets confused- it doesn’t tell the brain the bladder if full which creates a back-up of pressure in the bladder, adding stress on the kidneys.
- Urinary tract- high blood sugar increases the likelihood of urinary tract infections which can later develop into infections of the kidneys.
Hypertension is the second most common cause of CKD. When you look at the change in our lifestyle over time- less physical activity, more processed foods, increased alcohol consumption and the high levels of stress most people are under, it really is no wonder the incidence of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure is on the rise.
So, how does high blood pressure cause kidney disease?
Well, high blood pressure can constrict and narrow blood vessels, reducing the blood supply to important organs like the kidneys. This means the kidneys don’t receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to work properly.
High blood pressure also damages the nephrons in the kidneys. Nephrons are the kidneys pretty amazing filtering units, when they don’t work properly the kidneys can’t remove all the wastes and extra fluid from your body.
High blood pressure doesn’t just cause kidney disease, it can also occur as a result of kidney disease. Your kidneys play an important role in keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range so diseased kidneys are less able to help regulate blood pressure. Is that not the definition of a vicious cycle?!
Glomerulonephritis is the name given to a range of conditions that can affect the glomeruli of the kidneys. The kidneys consist of small units (nephrons) responsible for filtering the kidney, the glomeruli are clusters of blood vessels found within each nephron. If your glomeruli are damaged, the kidneys can’t get rid of wastes and extra fluid in the body.
Glomerulo = refers to the glomeruli Nephritis = inflammation of the kidneys
Glomerulonephritis can be:
➔ Acute: develops quickly over a short time
➔ Chronic: develops and progresses slowly
Some causes of GN include:
- Immune diseases such as Lupus, Goodpasture syndrome and IgA nephropathy (Berger’s disease)
- Viral infections: including HIV and hepatitis
- Bacterial endocarditis: an infection of the heart valves
- Post-streptococcal GN: occurs after strep throat or skin infection
- Vasculitis: inflammation of blood vessels
IgA nephropathy (also known as Berger’s disease) is the most common cause of Glomerulonephritis. Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is an antibody that plays a key role in the immune system by attacking invading pathogens and fighting infections. In IgA nephropathy, this antibody collects in the glomeruli, causing inflammation (glomerulonephritis) and essentially blocking up the kidney filtration system, which can ultimately lead to kidney failure.
The exact cause of IgA nephropathy is unknown in most cases, infections may contribute to it developing and its presence among certain families suggest there may be a genetic predisposition in some people. It has also been suggested that IgA nephropathy results from a hypersensitivity to food antigens as it has been associated with coeliac disease.
IgA nephropathy is classified as an autoimmune condition because the disease is due to the body’s immune system attacking the tissues in the kidney.
Other Causal Factors of Kidney Disease Include (but aren’t limited to):
- Auto-immune diseases: Auto-immune conditions occur when the immune system mounts an inappropriate attack on healthy tissues, damaging their structure and therefore altering function. Eg. Lupus, IgA Nephropathy.
- Connective tissue diseases: These are a group of diseases that affect the parts of the body that connect structures of the body together such as tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage, bone and blood vessels. These disorders can also involve and damage organs like the kidneys. Eg. SLE and Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Pharmaceutical drugs: Pharmaceutical drugs need to be broken down and detoxified which can place a burden on detoxifying organs such as the kidneys. Several drugs in particular are known to cause kidney damage specifically. Eg. NSAIDs, analgesics, antibiotics, gout medications, diuretics, chemotherapies.
- Exposure to hydrocarbon solvents: such as benzene, petroleum ether and terpentine.
- Genetics: Several forms of kidney disease have a genetic link and are caused by problems (mutations) in genes. Eg. Polycystic Kidney Disease, Alport Syndrome, Fabry Disease.
- Polycystic Kidney Disease: PKD is an inherited kidney disease that causes fluid-filled cysts to form in the kidneys which disrupts the structure of the filtering units, leading to a decrease in kidney function.
- Alport Syndrome: an inherited condition that affects the DNA coding of collagen and protein structures within the kidneys, eyes and ears.
- Heavy metals: This form of kidney damage can be acute but is more commonly seen as causing chronic damage from long-term exposure, such as to workplace or environmental toxins. Eg. arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.
- Infections: Particularly Streptococcus which can cause Post Streptococcus glomerulonephritis which is a form of kidney damage that occurs after infection (usually strep throat or a skin infection) with Streptococcus bacteria. Chronic kidney infections (pyelonephritis) caused by bacteria can also damage the kidneys.
- Kidney stones: Stones can cause blockages in the ureters, which if left untreated can cause kidney damage over time. Stones can also cause kidney infections which can lead to inflammation and scarring of the kidneys.
- Liver cirrhosis: This can cause kidney damage directly but also commonly leads to Type II Diabetes which as we know, is the leading cause of kidney disease.
- Prostate Disease: An enlarged prostate can prevent proper flow of urine and cause blockages that can damage the kidneys over time.
- Reflux nephropathy: Backflow of urine into the kidneys causes damage over time which can eventually lead to scarring of the kidneys and kidney disease.
As you can see, there are numerous causes of kidney disease. You might be thinking- kidney disease is kidney disease isn’t it, why does it matter what caused it?
Well, the CAUSE of your kidney disease is the KEY to your healing. What do I mean by that? If you don’t identify and treat the cause of your kidney disease then it’s just like putting a bandaid on the problem- it might make you feel better for a little while, but it’s not getting to the root of the problem AND is unlikely to result in lasting healing.
If you don’t know what caused YOUR kidney disease, speak to your doctor and ask what tests could be done to help you identify the cause.
I hope you found this information useful AND that I’ve got you thinking about what might have been the trigger for your kidney disease. Knowledge is power after all!
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