Types and Causes of Kidney Disease

Many things can lead to loss of kidney function. Although there is not enough space to list all possible causes here, a general list includes:

Congenital deformities: Structural deformities occuring at birth that can cause the kidneys to be malformed, obstructed (blocked), or even completely absent.
Hereditary impairments: Conditions passed on from parents to children. Examples include Alport’s syndrome, polycystic kidney disease, and renal tubular acidosis.

Polycystic kidney disease
PKD Foundation

Toxins: Various agents are toxic or potentially toxic to the kidneys. These include certain drugs and chemicals, and high dose radiation.
Systemic diseases: Although they do not primarily affect the kidney, they may progress to involve the kidney and impair renal function. Examples are diabetes mellitus, vasculitis, systemic lupus erythematosis, multiple myeloma, amyloidosis, peripheral vascular disease, Wegener’s granulomatosis, and Goodpasture’s syndrome.

Diabetes and the kidney
Lupus and kidney disease
IgA nephropathy
Nephrotic syndrome

Hypertension: Uncontrolled high blood pressure gradually destroys the kidneys by damaging the blood vessels and eventually the filtering units of the kidneys.

High blood pressure and CKD

Nephritis: This is a broad category of diseases that affect primarily the filtering portion of the kidney called the glomerulus (glomerulonephritis) or the tubules and connective tissue (interstitial nephritis).


Infections: Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can lead to kidney damage if untreated, especially in the presence of obstruction.
Stones: Kidney stones (nephrolithiasis) can contribute to infection and obstruction, and if untreated or severe can lead to kidney impairment.

Kidney stones

For more information on specific diseases involving the kidney, go to: NIDDK Easy to Read Publications