Certain medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle habits can cause damage to your kidneys. Many of these habits are modifiable, and you can take steps to manage them. Some like age and family history, are out of your control.

Your kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from your blood. When they become damaged, they cannot perform this function as effectively.

Over time, kidney damage can eventually lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure. An estimated 1 in 7 people in the United States has CKD.

There are several factors that can damage your kidneys. These include medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle habits.

A variety of medical conditions can cause damage to your kidneys. We’ll go over them, as well as how they can cause kidney damage.

Kidney disease

There are many medical conditions that affect the kidneys specifically. Over time, these can directly damage kidney tissue, leading to reduced kidney function. Some examples include:

Learn about the different types of kidney disease.


Diabetes is a condition where your body cannot make insulin or cannot use insulin well, leading to increases in blood sugar. An estimated 1 in 3 adults with diabetes may have CKD.

High blood sugar damages blood vessels and filtering ability in the kidneys over time. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, which also damages the kidneys.

Learn more about diabetes and kidney disease.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is when the pressure of blood against your artery walls is too high. This can damage blood vessels, including those supplying the kidneys. About 1 in 5 adults with high blood pressure may have CKD.

Read more about how high blood pressure affects the kidneys.

Heart disease

Heart disease includes coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmia. These conditions affect your heart’s ability to effectively pump blood. When your kidneys don’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood, it can lead to damage.

Find out more about heart disease and kidney health.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks healthy tissue. When lupus impacts your kidneys, it can cause lupus nephritis. Up to 60% of people with lupus develop lupus nephritis.

The effects of your immune system attacking your kidneys can damage them and eventually lead to CKD or kidney failure.

Learn more about lupus nephritis.


Obesity is a chronic condition where you have excess body fat. An estimated 41.9% of adults in the United States have obesity.

People with obesity often have other health conditions, called comorbidities, that boost the risk of kidney damage. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Get more information on obesity.

Physical trauma

Physical trauma can cause direct damage to your kidneys. Loss of blood or fluids from trauma can lower blood flow to your kidneys, leading to damage and acute kidney injury (AKI). People with prior AKI are at a higher risk of CKD.

Several types of medications can be harmful to your kidneys. Mechanisms by which they can do this include:

Examples of drugs that may lead to kidney damage include:

If you’re concerned about the effects a medication may have on your kidneys, speak with your doctor. Additionally, be sure to always take all medications as directed.

Certain lifestyle habits can also lead to kidney damage.

Alcohol overuse

Alcohol can also promote dehydration and increase blood pressure, both of which can stress the kidneys. It can also lead to liver disease, which can affect the function of your kidneys as well.

Learn more about how alcohol consumption affects your health.


Smoking has a variety of negative impacts on overall health. It can directly damage the kidneys via oxidative stress. Smoking also boosts the risks of other conditions associated with kidney damage, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Get more information that can help you to quit smoking.

Eating processed foods

Foods like processed meats, sodas, and sweets are associated with health conditions that increase the risk of kidney disease, such as high blood pressure and obesity.

Researchers have found that people with the highest levels of processed food consumption have a 24% higher risk of CKD.

Learn more about healthy versus highly processed foods.

Eating a diet high in salt and sugar

Too much salt can increase blood pressure. The National Kidney Foundation notes that while sugar doesn’t damage the kidneys, too much sugar intake in people with diabetes can lead to high blood sugar that can damage the kidneys.

Eating too much protein

Too much protein can stress your kidneys as they work harder to clear the waste products of protein metabolism from the body. High protein intake is typically only detrimental in people with preexisting CKD.

Discover more about the effects of eating too much protein.

Not getting enough sleep

Getting sufficient good quality sleep is important for overall health. Poor sleep can increase the risk of conditions that can affect the kidneys, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Poor sleep has also been linked to CKD risk.

Find out how much sleep you typically need each night.


Having severe dehydration can damage your kidneys. When you’re dehydrated, your urine becomes more concentrated, and you’re more likely to experience kidney stones or UTIs that can damage the kidneys.

Learn how to tell when you’re dehydrated.


It’s estimated that 1 in 2 adults doesn’t get enough exercise. Physical inactivity is linked to a higher risk of conditions that boost the risk of kidney disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Some research has found that physical activity lowers the risk of kidney disease.

Illegal drug use

Certain illegal drugs are filtered, concentrated, or processed by your kidneys and may lead to kidney injury through a variety of mechanisms. These include cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines.

There are also other risk factors for kidney disease.

Family history of chronic kidney disease

A family history of CKD increases your risk. This can be due to either inherited conditions like polycystic kidney disease or shared environmental or social factors.

Older age

Your risk of kidney disease gets higher as you age. After age 40, kidney filtration generally falls by 1% each year. Additionally, conditions that damage the kidneys, such as heart disease and diabetes, are more common as you age.

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about your kidney health.

What is the main cause of kidney damage?

Diabetes is the main cause of CKD and end-stage renal disease (ESRD). In 2018, 47% of people starting renal replacement therapy had a diabetes diagnosis.

What are the first signs of kidney damage?

Many people with kidney disease don’t have symptoms until kidney damage is more severe. Some examples of kidney disease symptoms are:

What color is urine when your kidneys are damaged?

Urine that has become darker can be a potential sign of reduced kidney function. This includes urine that’s dark amber, brown, or red in color.

What happens when one kidney stops working?

Most people can live a typical life with only one working kidney. However, you may be at an increased risk of high blood pressure and increased protein in your urine.

Can a damaged kidney recover?

No. Once kidney damage has occurred, the damage cannot be reversed.

There are many factors that can lead to kidney damage. These can be divided up into medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle habits.

You can help keep your kidneys healthy by adopting lifestyle habits that promote kidney health. You can also take steps to manage health conditions that increase your risk of kidney disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.