The RenalTracker Team
March 29, 2019

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Having kidney disease means necessary lifestyle changes, especially on diet and nutrition. You have to be careful with what you eat or else you escalate your kidney condition.

What most people don't know, though, is this: medications used to treat your headaches, body pains, and other ailments may cause more harm than good to your kidneys now.

Here are the most common medications that your doctor might tell you to avoid.


One of the most common medications to avoid are analgesics, or pain medications.

kidney disease medications to avoid

According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), analgesics (also spelled analgaesics) are medicines that help you control body pains. Some other types also reduce fever and inflammation.

Most common over-the-counter examples of analgesics are:

  • aspirin
  • acetaminophen
  • celecoxib
  • ibuprofen
  • Ketoprofen
  • naproxen sodium

These pain relievers can be sometimes called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. For regular people, they are often safe to take, but when you have decreased kidney function, filtering these drugs from your blood can be a pain.

Gastrointestinal bleeding, stomach ulcers, and a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke may also arise as side-effects when taking NSAIDs irresponsibly.

Antibiotics and Anti-virals

Antibiotics and anti-virals can also pose a threat to your kidney functions. Aside from causing inflammation, some of these medications can also cause certain effects in some parts of your kidneys.

Below is a table of a few known antibiotics and anti-virals, with their possible side-effects on your kidneys:

Antibiotics / Anti-viral

Side-effects on Kidneys

aminoglycosides (e.g., tobramycin)

toxicity in the renal tubular cells

acyclovir (treatment for chickenpox, shingles) and valaciclovir (for herpes)

swelling, inflammation, and insoluble crystals in the kidneys 

HIV medications (e.g., tenofovir, atazanavir)

toxicity in the renal tubular cells

sulfonamides (antimicrobials)

insoluble crystals that block urine flow


swelling and inflammation

Prescription Laxatives

Laxatives are often available over the counter and they are often fairly safe to use. Patients who need to undergo colonoscopy will also need these to clean out their bowels before the procedure.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (DFA) released a warning about the use of oral sodium phosphate products, or OSPs, when it comes to cleaning your bowels.

It has been discovered that OSPs, which are readily available over the counter, can cause acute phosphate nephropathy. It's a type of kidney injury due to the buildup of phosphate crystal deposits in the kidneys, causing loss of function and damage.

Because of this, the FDA has requested the pharmaceutical companies who produce this product to issue warnings in their product labels and take part in educating patients about the risks of using OSPs.

The agency also suggests that consumers should always consult their physicians and doctors first before doing a bowel cleanse, especially if they already have kidney disease.

Illegal Drugs

This one should be a no-brainer. Street drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin cause high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, and (in the worst cases) death.

Even marijuana, which is legal in some states and territories, has been found to speed up eGFR decline in kidney disease patients. 

marijuana-cannabinoid; kidney disease medications to avoid

Patients with kidney disease experience significant symptom burden, such as nausea, anorexia and chronic pain, which are all valid issues for medical marijuana usage... If patients with kidney disease are prescribed marijuana for their symptoms, we need to be mindful of the effects on the kidney,” said Dr. Joshua Rein from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Dos and Don'ts of Drug Use

NKF has a few important advice to how to avoid aggravating your condition when using medication: 

1. Always seek supervision from your healthcare provider when you plan to take any medicine or drug.

When you feel ill, contact your physician/doctor immediately. Do not attempt to self-medicate or use drugs without the approval or prescription of your healthcare provider.

2. Don't take any substance that a stranger, or even your friends, give you. Chances are, these are illegal and dangerous to your health.

3. In the event that you are required to undergo colonoscopy or imaging tests, inform your healthcare provider whether you have CKD or at risk of getting it.

Last piece of advice, if I may: always be vigilant when it comes to your health. Taking precautions and being careful with what you take in your body is always a good habit to maintain for you and your kidneys.


Pain Medicines (Analgesics) - National Kidney Foundation:

What Are the Treatments for Kidney Disease? - WebMD: 

Which Drugs are Harmful to Your Kidneys? - National Kidney Foundation:

Oral Sodium Phosphate Safety Alerts - National Kidney Foundation:

6 Medications That Can Harm the Kidneys - Med Shadow:

Marijuana use associated with faster kidney function decline in patients with CKD - Healio Nephrology News and Issues: