What is analgesic nephropathy?
Analgesics are painkillers. Examples include:
- Naproxen sodium
Taking one or a mix of these medicines daily over a long time may cause chronic kidney problems. This is called analgesic nephropathy. Painkillers that combine 2 or more medicines (such as, aspirin and acetaminophen together) with caffeine or codeine are the most likely to harm the kidneys. Painkillers with codeine require a prescription.
What causes of analgesic nephropathy?Long-term exposure to certain painkillers can damage the small filtering blood vessels in the kidney. This can cause analgesic nephropathy, a chronic kidney problem.
What are the symptoms of analgesic nephropathy?
These are the most common symptoms of analgesic nephropathy:
- Fatigue or weakness, feeling unwell
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- An increase in urination frequency or urgency
- Pain in the back or flank area (where the kidneys are located)
- A decrease in urine output
- Decreased alertness, such as drowsiness, confusion, or lethargy
- Decreased feeling or numbness, especially in the arms and legs
- Nausea, vomiting
- Widespread swelling (edema)
- Easy bruising or bleeding
Some people have no symptoms. Kidney damage may be picked up by routine blood tests. The symptoms of analgesic nephropathy may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
How is analgesic nephropathy diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your medical history and do a physical exam. Other tests may include:
Blood pressure checks
Urine toxicology screen. This test measures the amount of the pain killer in the urine.
Urinalysis. Exam of urine for certain types of cells and chemicals, such as red and white blood cells, infection, or too much protein.
Complete blood count. This test measures the size, number, and maturity of blood cells.
Exam of any tissue passed in the urine
Intravenous pyelogram. A series of X-rays of the kidney, ureters, and bladder. It uses an injection of a contrast dye. This helps find tumors, abnormalities, kidney stones, or any blockages. This test also checks blood flow to the kidney.
What is the treatment for analgesic nephropathy?
Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
- How old you are
- Your overall health and medical history
- How sick you are
- How well you can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- How long the condition is expected to last
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- Stopping all pain killers you have been taking, especially OTC medications
- Dietary changes
- Behavioral changes or counseling to help control chronic pain
Treatment aims to prevent any further kidney damage, and treat any existing kidney failure.
What are the complications of analgesic nephropathy?
Some cases of acute kidney failure have been linked to the use of painkillers, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Many of these people had risk factors, such as:
- Advanced age
- Chronic kidney conditions
- Recent binge-drinking alcohol
Consult your health care provider for more information about diagnosis and treatment of analgesic nephropathy and kidney failure.
Key points about analgesic nephropathy
- Long term use of pain killers can cause damage to the kidneys. This includes over-the-counter and prescription pills.
- This condition is most common in people older than 45 years of age.
- Often there are no symptoms. It may be found on routine blood or urine tests.
- Symptoms are related to the build-up of toxins and waste products that are normally filtered by the kidneys.
- Analgesic nephropathy can lead to acute kidney failure, cancer, or atherosclerosis in later stages.
Next stepsTips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
- Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
- Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD