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Types of kidney disease

Kidney disease is broadly classified into acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.

Acute kidney injury

Acute kidney injury is sudden damage to the kidneys. In many cases it will be short term but in some people it may lead to long-term chronic kidney disease.

The main causes are:

  • damage to the actual kidney tissue caused by a drug, severe infection or radioactive dye
  • obstruction to urine leaving the kidney (for example because of kidney stones or an enlarged prostate).

People who have chronic kidney disease are also at increased risk of acute kidney injury.

Chronic kidney disease

More often, kidney function worsens over a number of years. This is known as chronic kidney disease. Sometimes it can progress to end stage kidney disease, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to keep you alive.

There are different causes of chronic kidney disease, the key ones being:

  • damaged blood vessels to the kidneys due to high blood pressure and diabetes
  • attacks on the kidney tissue by disease or the immune system (glomerulonephritis)
  • the growth of cysts on the kidneys (polycystic kidney disease)
  • damage due to backward flow of urine into the kidneys (reflux nephropathy)
  • congenital abnormalities of the kidney or urinary tract.

There are many other causes of kidney disease, and sometimes the cause is not known. Regardless of the cause of the disease, some parts of the treatment are common to all. However, your doctor will always attempt to find the cause of your kidney disease as it may have important implications.

If the cause of your kidney disease is genetic or unknown, your doctor may recommend your relatives also be checked.

Links to fact sheets and other helpful information can be found in our Resource Library.

Kidney diseaseTreatment for kidney disease
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