Analgesic nephropathy

Am J Kidney Dis. 1998 Sep;32(3):351-60. doi: 10.1053/ajkd.1998.v32.pm9740150.


Many questions about analgesic nephropathy (AN) lack clear-cut answers. We present available evidence for and against proposed answers to many of these questions. These include: (1) Is acetaminophen (AC) nephrotoxic when taken as the sole analgesic? (2) Is the combination of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) and AC more nephrotoxic than AC taken alone, and if so, why? (3) What are the minimum doses and durations of ingestion required to produce analgesic nephrotoxicity? (4) Is the combination of ASA and AC (a major metabolite of phenacetin) less nephrotoxic than that of phenacetin and ASA combined? (5) Does caffeine in combination with analgesics contribute to nephrotoxicity? (6) What is the incidence of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) due to AN? (7) What uniform diagnostic criteria should be established for AN? (8) What are the earliest anatomic and biochemical abnormalities? (9) What are the mechanisms of renal injury? (10) Does AC cause uroepithelial neoplasia? (11) What research might be most beneficial? Based mainly on associations, some strong, we suggest that AN still exists as a cause of ESRD in the United States, where AC/ASA combinations are available over the counter, and in Canada, where they are not. We also suggest that the evidence needed to recommend that the AC/ASA combination be excluded from over-the-counter analgesic preparations still has limitations. A prospective multicenter study comparing incidence related to AC/ASA in the United States and to AC in Canada and the United States may be needed to answer this question. For such a study to be worthwhile, an adequate incidence in both countries is required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics / adverse effects*
  • Aspirin / adverse effects*
  • Caffeine / adverse effects
  • Canada
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / chemically induced*
  • Phenacetin / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States


  • Analgesics
  • Drug Combinations
  • Acetaminophen
  • Caffeine
  • Phenacetin
  • Aspirin