The Basics About Kidney Health

March is National Kidney Month, so what better way to celebrate then getting to know all about them! Here is everything you need to know about your kidneys and kidney health.

What do our kidneys do?

Our kidneys are very important in everyday health functions of our bodies. You cannot live without your kidneys, although some people do live healthy lives with only one kidney. The kidneys are two bean shaped organs that are only as big as a human fist. Our kidneys act as two filters for our blood, removing waste and toxins from our bodies. They filter roughly a half cup of blood per minute, removing toxins and extra fluid in your body. This waste and extra fluid is removed through urine production. The kidneys are connected to the bladder by two small tubes called ureters. The urine travels from the kidneys, through the ureters and to the bladder, producing urine. The importance of staying hydrated to help remove the waste through our urine is essential for kidney health.

Our kidneys have other functions as well. Such as:

  • Production of red blood cells.
  • Controlling blood pressure levels.
  • Supports bone health and strength.
  • Removes acid from blood. (Caused by cells in our body)

What happens if kidneys do not work properly? If this is the case, the waste and toxins are not filtered to the bladder and are filtered back into our blood stream. This can cause serious issues with health and lead to kidney disease.


What is kidney disease?

More than one in seven American adults suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease. Having chronic kidney disease means your kidneys have been damaged and do not filter your blood correctly. Kidney disease is gradual, and loss of function happens over time. Eventually waste can build up in your body making you feel very sick. Kidney disease can lead to kidney failure, needing dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. Kidney disease can cause serious health problems that include:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Repeated infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

Risk Factors

Kidney diseases are the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. Knowing the risk factors can promote healthy lifestyle changes to lower these risks. Those who are most at risk for kidney disease include:

  • Those who have diabetes. (Most common cause of kidney disease)
  • Those who have high blood pressure. (Second leading cause of kidney disease)
  • Have a family history of chronic kidney disease.
  • Old age. (Those over the age of 60 are more likely to develop kidney disease)

Symptoms

Knowing the signs of potential kidney disease can increase treatments sooner. Having kidney disease is hard to diagnose because most people might not even feel sick until the disease is progressed. Symptoms appear as signs that one or both of your kidneys are starting to fail. Symptoms include:

  • Dry, itchy skin.
  • Swollen feet and ankles.
  • Feeling fatigued and lowered energy.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Muscle cramping (especially during nighttime.)
  • Puffy eyes (More common in the morning)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble breathing
  • Excessive urination or not urinating enough.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect kidney disease, a series of tests performed to diagnose. Doctors will ask for a background of your medical history first. This includes, family history of kidney disease, if you suffer from any diseases currently, and a physical exam. Kidney disease diagnosis tests include:

  • Blood and urine tests. (Most common in detecting abnormalities)
  • Imaging tests.
  • Collecting a kidney biopsy to determine any decreased kidney function.

On the other hand, treatment can become more difficult. Certain kidney diseases can be managed and treated but chronic kidney disease has no effective treatment or cure. Management of symptoms for chronic kidney disease include:

  • Medications for high blood pressure.
  • Supplements to control anemia.
  • Diuretics to reduce swelling.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D supplements to support bones.
  • Medications to lower cholesterol.
  • Low protein diets.

If kidneys have been severely damaged, end-stage kidney disease treatments may be needed. These include:

  • Dialysis.
  • Kidney transplant.

Prevention tips to keep your kidneys healthy

Preventing chronic kidney disease starts can be as simple as choosing healthy lifestyle choices. In the early stages of kidney disease symptoms are low, so routine doctors’ visits are important to keep an eye on your health. Some prevention tips to keep your kidneys healthy include:

  • Having a healthy diet. (Eat fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit salty and fatty foods.)
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Manage diabetes and blood pressure. (Take medications if prescribed.)
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Exercise routinely.

Preventing kidney disease does not have to be hard. Simply swapping one bad habit for one good habit can reduce your risk dramatically.


Other kidney problems to look out for

Along with the risk factors of chronic kidney disease, there are other kidney conditions that can pave the way to chronic kidney disease development. Spotting and treating these conditions early can reduce the risk of kidney disease. Some kidney conditions that are left untreated become very high risk for kidney problems. Some kidney conditions to be aware of include:

  • Kidney stones. (Most common and treatable kidney problem.)
  • Kidney infections. (Untreated urinary tract infections can lead to kidney infections. Women are most at risk.)
  • Kidney cancer.
  • Acute kidney injury. (Life threatening if not treated as soon as possible.)

Chronic kidney disease is a global killer hidden in plain sight. The evidence is clear: Many nations’ health systems cannot keep pace with the dialysis demand. Cases far exceed and are well beyond the ability of those systems to handle. The consequences, literally, are deadly.”

Dr. Theo Vos, professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

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