Long-term use of certain painkillers can lead to analgesic nephropathy. This kidney condition may take years to develop and may not have any symptoms at first. Still, it can lead to complications like kidney failure.

Analgesic nephropathy is a condition that occurs due to the long-term use of painkillers (analgesics). It causes structural damage to the kidney.

Analgesic nephropathy mostly affects women between 30 and 70 years old who regularly take painkillers. This condition can lead to kidney damage, chronic kidney disease, and even kidney failure.

Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for people with analgesic nephropathy.

Each of your kidneys contains up to 1 million nephrons. Nephrons are filtering units that cleanse your blood from waste. Each nephron contains small blood vessels that deliver blood to the filters.

Long-term use of certain painkillers can damage these blood vessels, causing analgesic nephropathy. This damage is irreversible.

Painkillers that can cause analgesic nephropathy when used for a long time include:

How long does it take to develop analgesic nephropathy?

You don’t have to worry about analgesic neuropathy if you’ve been using painkillers for days, weeks, or even a few months. This condition typically develops after years of daily painkiller use, especially if taken at high doses.

Analgesic nephropathy usually results from self-medicating, often for some type of chronic (long-term) pain.

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In the early stages, analgesic nephropathy may not cause any symptoms. But as the condition progresses, you may begin to notice the following:

You may experience some of the above symptoms (like GI symptoms) as immediate side effects of pain relievers. Keep in mind that those symptoms on their own don’t necessarily mean you have nephropathy.

Your doctor might suggest analgesic nephropathy screening if you have a history of long-term painkiller use. Be sure to tell them about all medications you take. Otherwise, they may miss the condition as it typically has no symptoms until later stages.

To diagnose analgesic nephropathy, a doctor will likely run the following tests:

A doctor may also perform a kidney biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of kidney tissue for evaluation under a microscope. This can help confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of kidney damage.

Kidney damage that has already occurred due to analgesic nephropathy is irreversible. So, the main goals of treatment are to prevent further damage to your kidneys and manage your symptoms.

Usually, the first step is to stop taking the painkillers causing the damage. This may require using other pain management options, like physical therapy, acupuncture, or nerve blocks.

If your kidney damage is extensive, a doctor may recommend dialysis or even kidney transplantation. Dialysis is a treatment that filters your blood to remove waste and excess fluids. Kidney transplantation is a surgical procedure that replaces the damaged kidney with a healthy one from a donor.

In addition to these treatments, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to improve your kidney function and overall health. These may include:

The outlook for people with analgesic nephropathy depends on the severity of kidney damage.

If doctors catch this condition early, stopping painkillers may be sufficient to prevent further damage and preserve kidney function. But if the damage is severe, analgesic nephropathy may lead to chronic kidney disease and other complications. This may significantly worsen your outlook.

Keep in mind that your individual outlook might depend on multiple factors, like your age and overall health. Talk with a nephrologist (a doctor that treats kidney conditions) to discuss your individual outlook.

Analgesic nephropathy is a kidney condition that occurs due to the long-term use of certain painkillers, like acetaminophen or NSAIDs. It can cause irreversible kidney damage, chronic kidney disease, and kidney failure.

This condition may not have any symptoms at first. If you’ve been taking painkillers daily for a long time, your doctor might suggest regular screenings of your kidney function.

Treatment for analgesic nephropathy may involve the following:

  • stopping the use of painkillers causing kidney damage
  • managing symptoms and complications
  • adopting lifestyle changes that benefit kidneys

Talk with a doctor if you have a chronic condition requiring daily painkiller use. They might suggest alternative therapies to help you feel better without damaging your kidneys.