What Meds Might Hurt My Kidneys?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on January 27, 2022
3 min read

Your kidneys get rid of waste in your body and help you hold on to the right amount of fluid. They also send out hormones that keep your blood pressure steady, and they play a role in making red blood cells. They even make a form of vitamin D that’s good for your bones.

Some medications can make those things hard for your kidneys to do and keep them from working the way they should.

These drugs affect your kidneys in different ways. For example, some can make crystals that don't break down and can block your urine flow. Others have substances that can damage certain kidney cells when they try to filter them out. Some people also have allergic reactions to antibiotics that can affect their kidneys. All these things are more likely to happen if you take antibiotics for a long time or your dose is very high.

Doctors use these medicines, also known as water pills, to treat high blood pressure and some kinds of swelling. They help your body get rid of extra fluid. But they can sometimes dehydrate you, which can be bad for your kidneys.

Whether they're over-the-counter -- like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin), or naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn) -- or prescribed by your doctor, you shouldn’t use them regularly for a long time or take high doses of them.

Overuse of pain meds causes up to 5% of chronic kidney failure cases every year.

These medications (Aciphex, Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid) are used to treat heartburn, ulcers, and acid reflux. They lower the amount of acid in your stomach, but studies have shown that taking them for a long time can raise your chances of serious kidney problems and possibly lead to kidney failure.

Other heartburn medicines called H2 blockers (Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac) are less likely to cause these issues. If you take a PPI regularly, ask your doctor if switching to another drug might be better for you.

Some of these, including wormwood oil, may not be good for your kidneys. Tell your doctor about every supplement you take to make sure they're helping and not hurting.

Over-the-counter or prescription versions can leave crystals in your kidneys that may damage them or cause failure. This is especially true for ones that contain oral sodium phosphate, or OSP.

If your kidneys are already damaged, certain drugs can make them worse or lead to kidney failure. Talk to your doctor before taking cholesterol or diabetes medication, antacid medicine for an upset stomach, or antimicrobial meds, like antifungal and antiviral drugs. In some cases, you may be able to take a smaller dose that's safer for you.

You also should talk to your doctor before having some kinds of imaging tests. With a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan, doctors sometimes use a dye to help them see a specific area of your body better. In rare cases, this dye can cause serious conditions called contrast-induced nephropathy (CIN) or nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF). Ask your doctor about other tests you might have instead.