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Family history and kidney disease

Some people may have a family history of kidney disease, where an inherited form of the disease can run in families or be passed down through one or more generations.

These inherited conditions are usually caused by a harmful fault (also known as a mutation) in one of our genes. Our genetic information is stored in our genes in a code on DNA. A mutation occurs when there is a harmful fault in the code. Our genes are located within chromosomes which are found in an area in the centre of cells called the nucleus.

A person usually inherits a mutation from their parents. This can happen in one of three patterns:

  • Dominant inheritance – where you get a faulty gene from one parent
  • Autosomal recessive inheritance – is where you get a faulty gene from both parents
  • Sex-linked inheritance – is where a faulty gene on the X chromosome is more likely to be harmful if it is passed down to a male child. Our biological sex is determined by a pair of sex chromosomes (XY in males and XX in females) and so a male child can inherit a condition if they have the faulty gene on their X chromosome while a female child would only inherit the condition it they had the faulty gene on both X chromosomes.

However, sometimes a fault in a gene can occur for the first time in the affected person.

Having a family history of kidney disease doesn’t automatically mean that you will develop kidney disease but it may increase your risk of having kidney problems or possibly passing that risk on to your children.


Kidney diseases that can be inherited

The most common inherited kidney conditions are:

Some types of glomerulonephritis can run in families. And the tendency to develop diabetes – the leading cause of kidney failure – can be inherited.

Many types of kidney disease are not fully understood, so if more than one person in the family has kidney problems, it may be an idea to check the kidney function of other family members.

Testing for inherited conditions

Testing for inherited conditions usually requires analysis of a person’s DNA in a blood or tissue sample. But tests aren’t always available because the genetic problem creating the inherited condition may be caused by a variety of different mutations.

Kidney specialists can give advice about the chances of family members being affected by certain kidney conditions, and whether screening can be done.

Speak to your GP if you think that you or a family member may have an inherited kidney problem. They will be able to refer you to a kidney specialist for further investigations.

Reviewed April 2019

The need for more research

There are still many types of kidney disease that run in families in which we haven’t identified the gene responsible.  Once the genetic mutation causing the disease has been discovered, the next challenge is to work out how to stop the mutation causing the kidney disease.

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Join our Kidney Voices for Research network and get involved in the latest research into the causes and treatments of kidney disease.

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