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Analgesic nephropathy

  • Definition

    Analgesic nephropathy involves damage to one or both kidneys caused by overexposure to mixtures of medications, especially over-the-counter pain remedies (analgesics).


    Alternative Names

    Phenacetin nephritis; Nephropathy - analgesic


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Analgesic nephropathy involves damage within the internal structures of the kidney. It is caused by long-term use of analgesics, especially over-the-counter (OTC) medications that contain phenacetin or acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

    About 6 or more pills per day for 3 years increases the risk some for this problem. This frequently occurs as a result of self-medicating, often for some type of chronic pain.

    Analgesic nephropathy occurs in about 4 out of 100,000 people, mostly women over 30. The rate has decreased significantly since phenacetin is no longer widely available in OTC preparations.

    Risk factors include:

    • Use of OTC analgesics containing more than one active ingredient
    • Chronic headaches, painful menstrual periods, backache, or musculoskeletal pain
    • Emotional or behavioral changes
    • History of dependent behaviors including smoking, alcoholism, and excessive use of tranquilizers