Diabetic kidney disease

Also known as diabetic nephropathy

Key points about kidney disease and diabetes

  • Kidney damage caused by diabetes is called diabetic nephropathy or diabetic kidney disease. 
  • It develops slowly over time.
  • There are lots of ways to reduce your chances of developing kidney disease or stop it from getting worse.
  • Kidney disease can be spotted early through a urine (pee) and blood test.
  • Getting your annual diabetes health checks are an important way to help prevent or spot kidney disease.
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You need your kidneys to work properly because they act as filters to remove waste and extra fluid from your body. You can read more about the important jobs your kidneys have in your body.

Having too much glucose (sugar) in your blood can damage the small blood vessels and filters in your kidneys. High blood pressure also damages your kidneys. When this happens, your kidneys can’t filter very well, causing things like waste products to build up and protein to leak from your body through your pee.

Because kidney disease develops slowly over many years, most people don’t have any symptoms in the early stages.

But if it develops into the later stages, you might notice things like:

  • feeling tired
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • being short of breath
  • puffiness or swelling around your eyes or ankles
  • blood in your pee
  • needing to pee more than normal.

These can also be caused by other things, so talk to your healthcare team if you notice anything that’s not normal for you.

When you have diabetes, you should get tested at least once a year to check for kidney damage. This can help spot early signs, before symptoms develop.

There are 2 main types of tests that look for kidney damage, a urine (pee) and a blood test.

  • Urine test – this looks for small amounts of protein in your pee. Protein leaking into your pee is an early sign of kidney damage.
  • Blood test – this can tell how well your kidneys are filtering your blood. Read more about a kidney function blood test.

The type of treatment will depend on what stage of kidney disease you have. The good news is, if kidney disease is spotted early, treatments can slow down kidney damage.

If you have diabetes and kidney disease, you will probably be advised to do these things:

  • Keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels within your target range.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices, eg, eat foods lower in salt and eat more fruits and vegetables. You should also aim for a healthy body weight, make physical activity part of your daily routine and get support to quit smoking. 
  • Take certain medicines, such as an ACE inhibitor, angiotensin receptor blocker or empagliflozin. These help protect your kidneys and reduce blood pressure and/or blood glucose.
  • Make changes to your diet to help protect your kidneys. A registered dietitian can help you with these.
  • Avoid certain medicines that can damage the kidneys, like ibuprofenIf you have kidney disease you should always discuss with your pharmacist or healthcare provider before you take a new medicine.

If kidney damage gets worse and you develop end-stage kidney disease, this means your kidneys are starting to fail. If this happens, treatment options include a kidney transplant or dialysis.

To reduce your risk of developing kidney disease, try to:

  • Keep your blood glucose levels within your target range.
  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
  • Eat healthily, stay active and aim for a healthy body weight.
  • If you smoke, get support to stop.
  • Have your free diabetes health checks every year. 

Read more about how to protect your kidneys and how food and exercise can help treat diabetes.

There’s lots of advice and support out there for you.

The following links provide further information about diabetic kidney disease. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.   

Complications – kidney(external link) Kidney Health NZ
Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease)(external link) Diabetes UK
Chronic kidney disease(external link) NHS, UK
Chronic kidney disease(external link) PatientInfo, UK
Diabetes(external link) National Kidney Foundation, US
Chronic kidney disease and diabetes(external link) Kidney Health NZ
Diabetic kidney disease(external link) Patient Info, UK


Chronic kidney disease and diabetes(external link) Kidney Health New Zealand
Diabetes and kidney disease(external link) Kidney Care UK, 2021


  1. Living with kidney disease – a comprehensive guide for coping with chronic kidney disease(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2014
  2. Antihypertensive agents for preventing diabetic kidney disease(external link) Cochrane Library, 2012
  3. Type 2 diabetes management guidelines – management of diabetic renal disease(external link) Ministry of Health and NZSSD, NZ, 2021

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Alice Miller, FRNZCGP, Wellington

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