ACE inhibitors – drugs for lowering blood pressure – are a major cause of life-threatening kidney failure.

They could be responsible for 15 per cent of all cases of kidney injuries, researchers estimate.It’s always been suspected that the ACE (angiotensin receptor antagonists) drugs might cause kidney injury and failure, but nobody was sure how bad the problem might be.

So researchers from Cambridge University looked at two years, 2007 and 2010, and compared the level of prescribing to hospital admissions for kidney injury. ACE prescriptions suddenly increased by 16 per cent in 2010 in the UK, and there was a 52 per cent increase in hospital admissions for acute kidney injury that year, too. They reckon that 1,636 of the admissions in 2010 could have been avoided had doctors kept to prescribing levels of 2007. The researchers estimate that the ACE drugs could be responsible for one in seven cases – or nearly 15 per cent – of kidney injury.

Around 30 per cent of the patients die from kidney failure. ACE inhibitors are the world’s second most-commonly prescribed drug, used to treat blood pressure, heart disease and – ironically – kidney failure.

(Source: PLoS ONE, 2013; 8: e78465)