What Are the Different Types of Renal Disease?

Erin Oxendine

There are many different renal, or kidney, diseases that can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening, but in general all can be broken down into two main types: those that were caused by external pressures or stimulations, and those that are triggered solely by genetics or physiological mutation. The difference isn’t always as cut-and-dry as patients might want to think. Sometimes things like lifestyle choices and diet can contribute to renal problems, but genetics and individual biological markers almost always play some role, too. One of the most common genetic renal diseases is polycystic kidney disease, in which cysts and growths form on the kidneys, impairing their function and usually also causing tremendous pain. Things like kidney cancers usually also fall within this category, and blood in the urine, a condition known as hematuria, sometimes will. Kidney stones are one of the most common created conditions, and this problem is usually caused by dehydration paired with excessive consumption of calcium. Treatment and prognosis for these and other kidney issues varies depending both on the condition and the patient at issue, but dialysis and transplant are common options in serious cases.

The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.
The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.

Understanding the Kidneys Generally

Healthy people have two kidneys that together work to filter the blood and produce urine. They also play a role in blood pressure regulation and mineral balance in the body. The most serious types of renal disease are usually related to kidney malfunction, perhaps connected to a defect or other genetic problem. Many of these run in families and can crop up unannounced.

An example of a healthy kidney and one with polycystic kidney disease.
An example of a healthy kidney and one with polycystic kidney disease.

Other, typically less serious diseases, are caused by environmental triggers or medications, or are symptoms of larger problems that primarily impact some other part of the body. Sometimes these are thought of as self-induced or caused by the patient. This isn’t always true, though; the role of genetics is often greater than researchers once suspected, and people are sometimes more disposed to infection, inflammation, or disease than others on a basic biological level. This can exacerbate the effects of otherwise harmless environmental conditions, effectively turning them into triggers.

An ultrasound is used for a renal doppler.
An ultrasound is used for a renal doppler.

Polycystic Kidney Disease

One of the most harmful kidney conditions is polycystic kidney disease. This genetic disease causes multiple cysts to grow in the kidneys. Cysts can cause pain in the back, high blood pressure, and urinary issues. Without treatment, the kidneys may become damaged and not work.

Kidney stones are the most common form of renal disease.
Kidney stones are the most common form of renal disease.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are probably the most common form of renal disease, but also the easiest to treat. A kidney stone is a small, hardened material that forms in the kidney. This may cause blood in the urine and pain in the back and stomach. One method of treating kidney stones is to let the stone eventually pass through the urine. The kidneys can also have simple benign cysts, composed of small fluid filled sacs. Eventually, the cysts may dissolve and usually do not require treatment.

Blood in the urine may be a sign of renal disease.
Blood in the urine may be a sign of renal disease.


Hematuria, also known as blood in the urine, is a different renal problem. Blood in the urine is usually harmless and caused by urinary tract infections. Doctors normally prescribe antibiotics to clear up this infection.

Renal Failure

Even minor problems can become bigger concerns if left untreated. When a person’s kidneys stop working, he or she will go into what’s known as “acute renal failure.” This can be caused by any number of things, including injury to the kidneys, medications, and illness. Acute renal disease can cause harm to other areas of the body. Individuals with acute renal failure typically need dialysis, which is a mechanical flushing of the kidneys to filter out impurities.

Dialysis and Transplantation

Dialysis is usually thought of as a short-term solution to kidney failure. Patients essentially let medical machines perform the filtration role of the kidneys, which can work quite successfully for some time — but it is invasive enough that it isn’t usually considered wise to do for years and years on end. When dialysis is not effective, the kidneys will cease functioning. The damage that can occur is permanent, and people in this situation will most likely need a kidney transplant.

A kidney transplant involves surgically removing the diseased kidney and urethra from the patient. The patient will then get a healthy kidney and urethra from a donor, either living or dead; humans technically only need one functioning kidney, which means that friends or family members can serve as donors if they have complementary blood and tissue types. The recipient will need to take medications and undergo regular tests to make sure the body does not reject the new organs.

Risk Factors and Prevention Tips

In general, those in the most danger of developing renal conditions are those with diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Family members of someone who has kidney disease may also have a high risk. Elderly people have a greater chance of getting a kidney disease since age is also a factor.

Doctors can test blood to determine if any kidney disease is present. The blood will have specific levels of protein and creatine that confirm a kidney condition. The physician can discuss the results with the patient and go over options for treatment.

Dialysis treatment is often used for advanced renal disease.
Dialysis treatment is often used for advanced renal disease.

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Discussion Comments


I'm at pretty high risk of developing diabetes since I have polycystic ovarian syndrome and I am overweight.

I try to stick to a low GI diet though to keep my blood sugar balanced, and try to stop my weight from getting too out of control. I don't want to end up with diabetes.

Chronic renal disease and kidney damage is only one of many different system failures you can expect once you get to that point, but it is one of the worst ones.

And if you are diabetic and overweight you might not be a good candidate for a kidney transplant. Remember that a donor kidney could be going to save someone else as well. Better to just try and take care of yourself in the first place and hope you never get to that point. I hope I never do.


Kidney stones are supposed to cause the worst pain possible. Women who have passed kidney stones say that it hurts worse than childbirth.

I am determined not to get any in my lifetime. I have read that they can develop if a person is dehydrated a lot of the time, so you should drink plenty of water.

I've also heard that people can get them from drinking too much milk or taking too much calcium. Not that you should stop altogether, as obviously you need calcium to be healthy. But, stick to the recommended daily amount of calcium to be safe.

Believe me, you don't want to get this particular renal kidney disease.

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