Kidney School™—a program of Medical Education Institute, Inc.

Module 1—Kidneys: How They Work, How They Fail, What You Can Do

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease

There are many causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD) that can lead to kidney failure. We will cover some of these in more detail later in this module. For now, let's explore the two major causes.

Test your knowledge

Test Your Knowledge

Of these three choices, two are leading causes of kidney disease. Choose the one you think does not lead to kidney failure.

Parkinson's disease
High blood pressure

You're right! Parkinson's disease is a serious condition, but has no direct link to kidney disease (that we know).

That's not the correct answer. Please try again!

The number one cause of kidney failure is type 2 diabetes. Almost 26 million people in the U.S.—nearly 12% of U.S. adults—have diabetes (but they don't all know it). From 2007 to 2011, 41.7% of people with kidney failure lost their kidney function due to type 2 diabetes, and another 4.1% to type 1 diabetes.

blood pressure cuff

The second most common cause of kidney failure is high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension accounts for almost 29.1% of all kidney failure. In the U.S., nearly one in three people have high blood pressure. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg or less. With chronic kidney disease, your target blood pressure may be less than 140/90, but ask your doctor to be sure.

Types of Diabetes

You may not know that there are three main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes means the pancreas (which makes insulin) has shut down. It is more common in children and young people. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to live.

In type 2 diabetes, the body still makes some insulin, but the cells ignore it. Type 2 diabetes is ten times more common than type 1, and many people who have it don't know it. Type 2 diabetes has all the same long-term problems as type 1 diabetes if blood sugar levels are not controlled. There is no such thing as "borderline diabetes" or "a touch of the sugar." Diet, exercise, pills, and sometimes insulin are used to treat type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes, the third type, occurs only during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the pregnancy is over. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.

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