Medications that cause kidney damage

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Your kidneys are small but mighty. They’re the size of a fist but have a big role in your health. Kidneys remove waste and extra fluid from your body through your urine.1 They also regulate your blood pressure, keep your bones healthy and balance your body’s fluids (water).2 However, some medications can damage your kidneys depending on your health, the dose or how often you take them. 

In honor of National Kidney Month (March), Humana Pharmacy® helps explain why certain prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can harm your kidneys. And we can provide personal support if you have questions for our pharmacists.

Medications that can harm kidneys

Every time you take your medication, your kidneys break it down and remove it from your body. Medications harmful to your kidneys are made of ingredients that can cause a loss of kidney function in select people. When this happens, your kidneys can’t do their job, which causes a buildup of waste and fluid in your body.3 Over time, this can cause chronic kidney disease (CKD)—the gradual loss of kidney function which, if left untreated, will build up to dangerous levels of wastes and fluids.4 

Common medications that affect the kidneys:5  

  • OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen
  • Ace inhibitors (heart medication)—Zestril® (lisinopril), Altace® (ramipril)
  • Antiviral medications (treat viral infections)—Viread® (tenofovir disoproxil), Reyataz® (atazanavir)
  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics (treat bacterial and eye infections)—Humatin™ (paromomycin sulfate)
  • Diuretics, or water pills (treat high blood pressure and swelling)—Aldactone® (spironolactone)
  • Zoledronic acid (treats osteoporosis, a bone condition)—Zometa® (zoledronic acid) 

Not everyone who takes these medications experiences kidney damage. It depends on many factors like your overall health, the amount of harmful ingredients in a medication and how you’re taking it.6 

For example, say you have a chronic health condition like high blood pressure or diabetes. You have a higher risk of kidney damage with medications because of how your health condition affects your kidney function. Or someone who always takes more than the recommend OTC pain medications in 24 hours. They would have a higher risk of experiencing kidney damage from medications than the average healthy person.

Protecting your kidneys

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews and approves all medications to ensure they’re safe for people to take. Rest assured that it’s OK to take the medications above. You just have to take them as directed by your prescriber. It may help to learn how to read your prescription labels or how to create medication reminders in our mobile app. These resources can help you stay on track with your medications. 

If you have questions about your kidney function, the best person to speak with is your healthcare provider. They can tell you what symptoms to look for with low kidney function and run tests to determine the health of your kidneys. Pharmacists at Humana Pharmacy are also available to provide tips on how to take your medications safely. You can reach our pharmacists by calling 800-379-0092 (TTY: 711), Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., Eastern time.


Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.


Sources

  1. “How Your Kidneys Work,” National Kidney Foundation, last accessed March 3, 2022, https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/howkidneyswrk. 
  2. “How Your Kidneys Work.”
  3. Mark A. Perazella, “Pharmacology behind Common Drug Nephrotoxicities,” Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology (December 2018), accessed March 8, 2022, doi:10.2215/CJN.00150118. 
  4. “Chronic kidney disease,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed March 8, 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-kidney-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354521.  
  5. Sharon Orrange, “The 10 Worst Medications for Your Kidneys,” GoodRx, last accessed March 3, 2022, https://www.goodrx.com/healthcare-access/medication-education/10-worst-medications-for-your-kidneys. 
  6. Perazella, “Pharmacology behind Common Drug Nephrotoxicities.”