Can a Damaged Kidney Repair Itself? Causes & Treatment

Medically Reviewed on 12/15/2021
Can a Damaged Kidney Repair Itself
Kidney damage in acute kidney failure can be reversed with hospitalization and lifestyle modifications. However, chronic kidney failure is often irreversible

Kidney damage is divided into two types:

  • Acute kidney disease or acute kidney failure: Damage has occured in a short period, such as in hours or a few days
  • Chronic kidney disease or chronic kidney failure: Damage has occured over several months or years

While a damaged kidney typically can’t repair itself, the condition can be treated if caught early. Acute kidney failure can be reversed with prompt hospitalization, although the recovery process can take weeks to months and requires regular monitoring, diet modifications, and medications.

Chronic kidney failure, however, is often irreversible. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) occurs when kidney damage worsens over time. There is no cure for CKD other than dialysis and kidney transplant.

Preliminary studies on animals have shown regeneration of kidneys with stem cell therapy, but more research is needed to support the use of stem cell therapy in the treatment of kidney failure.

What causes kidney damage?

Causes of acute kidney disease include:

  • Severe infection
  • Dehydration
  • Drugs, especially painkillers
  • Urine blockage
  • Surgery that puts pressure on the kidneys
  • Kidney diseases:

Causes of chronic kidney disease include:

Conditions that can increase the risk of CKD:

How is a damaged kidney treated?

Treatment options for kidney damage depend on cause and severity, which can be detected through: 

  • Blood tests: Serum creatinine levels that reach 5 or more in adults may indicate severe kidney damage.
  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR): Damaged kidneys have a GFR that is equal to or less than 15.

Damaged kidneys will require either dialysis or kidney transplantation, as no medication can reverse chronic damage. In some cases, however, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (enalapril, captopril, lisinopril), angiotensin II receptor blockers (telmisartan, losartan), and some calcium channel blockers (cilnidipine) can prevent the damage from worsening.


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Medically Reviewed on 12/15/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Live Well With Chronic Kidney Disease.

Liu D, Cheng F, Pan S, Liu Z. Stem cells: a potential treatment option for kidney diseases. Stem Cell Res Ther. 2020 Jun 25;11(1):249.

Stanford Medicine. Adult kidneys constantly grow, remodel themselves, study finds.

Harari-Steinberg O, Omer D, Gnatek Y, et al. Ex Vivo Expanded 3D Human Kidney Spheres Engraft Long Term and Repair Chronic Renal Injury in Mice. Cell Rep. 2020 Jan 21;30(3):852-869.e4.