What Causes Kidney Disease in Children?

R. Bargar

A wide range of factors from genetics to poison can cause kidney disease in children. The causes and resulting treatments vary depending on whether the patient is experiencing acute or chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. Long-term kidney disease can develop from unresolved acute kidney problems, however, so something that causes a short-term problem can eventually lead to chronic kidney disease. Bacterial infections are a leading cause of acute kidney disease in children, while genetics often play a role in chronic kidney diseases. Other disorders and diseases can be a contributing factor to kidney damage that might lead to eventual kidney failure.

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

The most common cause of acute kidney disease and failure in children is bacterial infection resulting in hemolytic uremic syndrome. Foodborne bacteria are frequently the cause of this syndrome in children under the age of ten. Young children who accidentally ingest poisons or medications affecting kidney function might experience acute kidney failure. Anything that causes a decrease in the flow of blood and oxygen to the kidneys can also cause a sudden loss of kidney function. This might happen during an injury accompanied by shock or blood loss.

Genetic factors an ingestion of poison can cause severe kidney problems in children.
Genetic factors an ingestion of poison can cause severe kidney problems in children.

A symptom of kidney disease in children is nephrotic syndrome, which indicates an underlying disease damaging the kidneys. In this syndrome, the kidney’s filtering units do not work correctly and excess protein is excreted in the urine, causing fluid buildup in the body. Treatment usually clears up the problem, but some children suffer relapses. There are also very rare forms of congenital disorders that cause nephrotic syndrome. Children with underlying genetic disorders causing the syndrome do not respond to medications and eventually require a kidney transplant.

Chronic kidney disease in children can develop from uncorrected short-term kidney problems or it can be caused by genetic disorders or a blockage. If an obstruction is present in the urinary tract causing urine to backup into the kidneys, permanent damage can result. Several genetic disorders cause progressive kidney damage, including Alport syndrome and polycystic kidney disease. Alport syndrome causes inflammation and damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys. The childhood form of polycystic kidney disease rapidly progresses, leading to kidney failure resulting from the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys.

Other disorders and diseases often affect kidney function. Children suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus, frequently experience kidney damage from this autoimmune disease. High blood pressure also causes kidney damage, resulting in further increases in blood pressure. This cycle repeats itself, causing both conditions to continue to worsen; however, it can be moderated by controlling blood pressure. Although diabetes is a common cause of kidney failure in adults, children’s kidneys are not usually affected by this disease due to the length of time it takes for damage to occur.

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