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Family History and Kidney Diseases

Some diseases are said to run in the family, when more than one person in a family has the same kind of illness. And it’s true, some diseases and conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, that can affect multiple family members, are caused by gene variants (also known as mutations) and can be inherited (passed down from parent to child).

Since kidney disease affects some families more than others – understanding the factors that can lead to kidney disease is important so that you can prevent kidney disease from developing. Also, if you know you are at risk for kidney disease, then you can take the right steps, right away, to slow down or stop the disease from getting worse.

Inherited vs. family history of kidney disease

While some types of kidney disease may be inherited, most of the time, when kidney disease is found in multiple family members, the cause of the disease is not due to genetics. Instead, environmental and social factors, called social determinants of health (SDoH), are the trigger that sets off the development of kidney disease.

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For many, the risk of developing kidney disease is not because of any one single reason, but due to a number of physical, environmental, and social factors.

SDoH make it more difficult for people to enjoy healthy lifestyles and get the medical attention, access to care, and support they need. SDoH also include physical and emotional factors, which lead to added stresses and can negatively affect your health.

Understanding how SDoH can affect kidney health is important. Many people only learn that they have kidney disease when the disease is already advanced. SDoH, like not having access to preventive care in their neighborhoods or lacking transportation to get to their doctor, can contribute to late diagnoses of kidney disease. People who are at risk should be regularly tested to see how well their kidneys are working.

Social determinants of health

Social determinants of health

Kidney disease risk factors

There are a number of environmental and social factors that can increase your risk of developing kidney disease. These SDoH contribute to developing serious chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes (also called sugar diabetes or sugar disease), lupus, or being overweight, which can lead to kidney disease. In addition, your genetics or having family members with kidney disease may also play a role.

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If you have diabetes, and your brother, sister, or parent:

Has diabetic kidney disease:
You are at greater risk for diabetic kidney disease.

Does not have diabetic kidney disease:
You are at lower risk for diabetic kidney disease.

It’s not always easy to be healthy or have a healthy lifestyle. And why is that? Well—the short answer is that many people, especially people living, working, and learning in under-resourced communities, simply do not have access to the very basics that are needed, such as open and green spaces like parks, reliable public transportation, healthy foods to eat, and needed medical care.

Individual Choices and Kidney Disease

While genetic factors and SDoH present challenges and obstacles to good health, there are also individual decisions and personal choices, which contribute to an increased risk of developing kidney disease. Some of these personal decisions include choosing to smoke, not being physically active or exercising, eating unhealthy foods, ignoring your mental health, and other individual behaviors and choices you make in your everyday life.

Factors related to health and wellbeing

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Spending some time learning about what you can do to improve your individual choices and behaviors (such as learning about a kidney friendly diet or choosing to walk 30 minutes every day) is an important step toward slowing and/or stopping kidney disease progression.

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