Kidney Problems


Age-related changes in your kidneys are not usually enough to cause illness. However, they may become harmful in the presence of specific diseases or situations. When this happens, the healthy balance of fluids, electrolytes, and acids and bases in your body may become compromised.

In particular, older adults may be at risk of kidney diseases or kidney-related disorders because of: 

  • hormone changes that affect how much water the kidneys save
  • certain medications used often by older people which can be directly toxic to the kidneys (for example, diuretics or “water pills”, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, antibiotics)
  • reduced ability of kidneys to filter the blood, discard toxins, and reabsorb salts
  • reduced ability of the body to respond to being dehydrated, such as older people having not as much thirst sensation (especially those with dementia) or an inability to get to fluids because of problems moving
  • sensitivity to illnesses that increase the amount of salt or water lost from the body, such as fever, sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • high or low blood pressure, leading to not enough blood flow getting to the kidneys
  • other causes of not getting enough blood flow to the kidneys, such as heart failure or blood vessel disease

Risk Factors

The chance of developing a kidney disease increases if you have any of the following risk factors or conditions:

  • Age over 65 years
  • African-American ancestry (risk is almost four times greater than for people with white ancestry)
  • Hispanic-American ancestry (risk is one-and-a-half times greater)
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease and heart failure
  • Obesity
  • Lung cancer or other cancers, lung infections, or liver diseases
  • High cholesterol
  • Infection, especially HIV or hepatitis
  • Dementia
  • Smoking habit
  • Dehydration
  • Recent surgery
  • Loss of sodium (salt)
  • A family history of kidney disease
  • History of kidney infections, or kidney damage from drugs or toxic chemicals
  • Male sex (your chance of developing ESRD is 50% higher if you are male)
  • Strep throat or streptococcal skin infection in an older person


Last Updated August 2020