Vancomycin-induced nephrotoxicity: mechanism, incidence, risk factors and special populations. A literature review

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Sep;68(9):1243-55. doi: 10.1007/s00228-012-1259-9. Epub 2012 Mar 13.


Purpose: Treatment failures following vancomycin therapy in patients with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections have led to the utilization of higher doses of this antibiotic to achieve the trough concentrations of 10-20 μg/mL recommended by the Infectious Diseases Society of America clinical practice guideline. However, many questions remain on the safety of such high doses of vancomycin, specifically their nephrotoxic effects. In this review, we have collected available evidence on the nephrotoxicity of vancomycin, particularly in terms of its mechanism, incidence, predisposing factors and special target populations.

Method: The data were collected by searching Scopus, PubMed, Medline, and Cochrane database systematic reviews. The key words used as search terms were "vancomycin", "nephrotoxicity", "renal failure", "renal damage", "risk factors", "infants", "children", "adult", "elderly" and "pregnancy". We have included all relevant animal and human studies up to the date of publication.

Results and conclusion: Vancomycin-induced renal toxicity was reported in 10-20 % and 30-40 % of patients following conventional and high doses of vancomycin therapy, respectively .The most probable mechanism for its nephrotoxicity can be at least partially attributable to an increased production of reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress. There are a number of different risk factors which could accelerate or potentiate the occurrence of vancomycin-induced nephrotoxicity, with the most documented risk factors being high trough vancomycin level (especially >20 mg/L) or doses (>4 g/day), concomitant treatment with nephrotoxic agents, prolonged therapy (even more than 7 days), and admittance to an intensive care unit (especially prolonged stay). It is necessary to carry out more studies, especially those focused on the association between nephrotoxicity and high trough levels of vancomycin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Kidney / drug effects*
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Kidney Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Kidney Diseases / epidemiology
  • Kidney Diseases / metabolism
  • Male
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Vancomycin / administration & dosage
  • Vancomycin / adverse effects*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Vancomycin