Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 2329–2338 | Cite as

Chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology in Sri Lanka and the exposure to environmental chemicals: a review of literature

  • M. R. D. L. Kulathunga
  • M. A. Ayanka WijayawardenaEmail author
  • Ravi Naidu
  • A. W. Wijeratne
Review Paper


Chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology (CKDu) has emerged as a serious health issue in Sri Lanka. The disease has been recorded in the North Central Province of the country. While studies have elicited many hypotheses concerning the pathogenicity of CKDu, none adequately explains the cause of CKDu and the measures needed to minimise its occurrence. Nephrotoxic heavy metal (oid)s such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, and chromium are present in biological samples of people from endemic areas. This review appraises evidence on the effects of long-term exposure to low concentration of nephrotoxic heavy metals, which could be the principal cause of CKDu. Although a considerable variation exists in metal concentrations in patients’ blood and urine, higher levels of heavy metals were consistently observed in affected areas. This review finds that the populations in the endemic areas are exposed to heavy metal (oid)s at low concentrations, which are considered as safe levels; nevertheless, it influences the incidence of CKDu. Recent global studies on chronic kidney disease (CKD) revealed a low concentration of heavy metals in diseased patients. Research findings indicated that CKDu patients in Sri Lanka demonstrated similar blood levels of Cd, Pb, and higher concentrations of Cr than that have been reported globally. Further studies on the influence of combinations of nephrotoxic heavy metals at low concentrations on reduced glomerular filtration rate and other renal biomarkers could explain CKDu pathogenicity.


Chronic kidney disease Unknown aetiology Heavy metals Cadmium Arsenic Lead Chromium Nephrotoxic metals 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Centre for Environmental RemediationThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.Fruit Research and Development InstituteKananwila, HoranaSri Lanka
  3. 3.Faculty of Agricultural SciencesSabaragamuwa University of Sri LankaBalangodaSri Lanka

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