Everyone knows it’s important to keep your heart healthy and your mind sharp, but what about protecting your kidneys? These bean-shaped organs sit inconspicuously beneath your rib cage near the middle of your back, and are often overlooked until a dreaded kidney stone or infection occurs. However, the kidneys play a vital role in bodily functions, from excretion of waste to circulatory and immune system health. In fact, these fist-sized organs accomplish amazing feats every day, including filtering toxins out of the body’s entire volume of blood (over a gallon) every 30 minutes! Kidneys also balance the body’s fluid and mineral levels, and release hormones that regulate blood pressure and initiate the production of red blood cells. These incredible organs are so efficient at each process that a healthy adult can generally live a normal life with just a single kidney.
What happens if my kidneys are damaged?
Unfortunately, like any vital organ, the kidneys are susceptible to damage that decreases or eliminates their ability to work properly. When a person’s kidneys fail, he or she must either receive a kidney transplant from a matching donor, or undergo dialysis, a process where a filtering machine or substance performs the functions that the person’s kidneys normally would. During hemodialysis, a person’s blood is pumped out of the body through a plastic tube, into a dialysis machine for filtering, and back into the body. The entire process can take up to four hours, and must be completed multiple times per week in a hospital or dialysis center. Peritoneal dialysis can be done at home, and involves injecting a filtering solution through a catheter into the abdominal cavity, and then emptying the solution (and wastes) out through the catheter several hours later. Kidney transplants eliminate the need for dialysis, but come with their own risk of complications and infections, as well as significant healthcare costs and wait times to receive an organ. In short – while treatments for kidney failure are available, keeping your own kidneys healthy is the best way to avoid invasive and costly kidney-related medical procedures.
Who gets kidney disease, and what are the symptoms?
Kidney damage or failure typically occurs due to injuries, cancer, or the effects of chronic diseases. While being injured or having cancer are generally out of a person’s control, the main health conditions that lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD) include high blood pressure and diabetes – potentially preventable conditions that have become more common in recent decades. CKD kills more people each year than breast or prostate cancer, and an estimated 26 million adults suffer from it, whether they’ve been diagnosed or not. Kidney failure is more prevalent among African American and Hispanic people with CKD, and men are more likely than women to progress from CKD to kidney failure. Symptoms of CKD include difficult or frequent urination, blood in the urine, fatigue, swelling in the extremities, and increased thirst. CKD can be diagnosed using simple blood and urine tests, but many people don’t have symptoms until their condition is more advanced and severe.
How can I prevent kidney disease?
The easiest way to prevent CKD is to avoid two chronic conditions that often lead to kidney damage – high blood pressure and diabetes. The blood sugar fluctuations caused by diabetes injure blood vessels in the body; in the kidneys, this hinders the filtration processes and makes the kidneys function less effectively and efficiently. Nerve damage resulting from diabetes may also make it difficult to know when you need to urinate, which could lead to kidney infections or damage due to increased pressure in the bladder. High blood pressure damages kidneys in similar ways to diabetes, and both conditions are typically caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. Quitting smoking, reducing salt intake and alcohol consumption, increasing physical activity and controlling one’s weight are all easy ways to manage your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and ultimately, CKD. All three ailments are all more common in older adults as well, so leading a healthy lifestyle becomes even more important as you reach your golden years.
CKD may also be caused by autoimmune diseases such as lupus, malformations that develop before birth, use of illegal drugs, alcohol and certain medications that damage the kidneys, and other kidney-related conditions, such as frequent cysts, stones, or infections. Discussing risk factors like family history and lifestyle choices with your doctor can help you stay on the path to kidney health and overall wellness.
Up to 1 in 3 Americans is at risk of developing CKD, and tens of thousands die of the disease each year. Choosing a healthy lifestyle is an important way to avoid developing this and many other chronic ailments. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of kidney disease at www.kidney.org, or talk to your Crittenton healthcare provider today about how you can reduce your risk!