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Kidney Health And Kidney Function Basics

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Dec 19, 2018
Last Modified Date: Dec 19, 2018
Published Date: Aug 02, 2017

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Kidney Health: The Basics Chapter 2: Kidney Diseases Chapter 3: Kidneys and Burning Urination Chapter 4: Kidney Failure Chapter 5: Commonly Asked Questions about Kidney Disease Chapter 6: Important Facts about your Kidney Health


Kidney Health: The Basics

Located at the back of the abdomen and at the same level as the first lumbar vertebra, the two kidneys are dark red in color; about 4.5 inches long and often described as shaped like a bean. Their primary function is to serve as a filter for the body, producing and removing waste products, or byproducts, known as metabolites.

The kidneys’ purification system cleans the blood of unwanted byproducts through the elimination of fluid. Normal urine output is a clear, pale yellow liquid with only a slight odor that results from its chemical composition. Changes in color, odor and clarity can indicate a kidney or urinary tract disease; or, disorder.

Illustration of kidneys with magnification

But, kidneys have other functions too. They help keeping your blood pressure from dropping too low, regulating your blood’s acidity, helping control red blood cell rate and regulating phosphate which determines your bone structure. They can help creating a water and electrolytes balance in your body. Your kidneys are capable of activating the secretion of numerous essential hormones in your body such as the Vitamin d, Erythropoietin that orders the bone marrow to form new red blood cells, and renin. Finally, your kidneys play a major role in maintaining the proper blood pH levels, regulating your waste excretion, producing glucose from non-sugar components, and detoxifying your body.

Many of the body’s essential functions depend on having healthy kidneys. Though considered as vital organs; typically, only one well-functioning kidney is needed, for the survival of a healthy person. Physicians who specialize in working with patients who have kidney disease are called nephrologists.

If your goal is to have a long healthy life; then, you need to understand all there is about your kidneys to keep them healthy and functioning properly.

There are three main diseases of your kidneys that are: chronic kidney disease that is normally caused by having high blood pressure and diabetes, acute kidney injury, and, kidney stones. Acute kidney injuries are normally due to damages to the kidney from within, reduction in the blood flowing to the kidneys, or damages to the lower urinary tract. These latter can be due to obstruction of the ureters, bladder and urethra. These are normally caused by stones, tumors, trauma or infection.

Many of us have a tendency to resort to anti-inflammatory drugs that are non-steroidal anytime we feel something is not feeling right. But, such pills, when overused, can cause severe acute kidney injury that, if not treated, could lead to chronic kidney disease. So, one of the biggest threats to your two bean-shaped organs is present in your medicine cabinets. Despite the fact that the National Kidney Foundation, since 1985, addressed the importance of adding to the labels of all over the counter NSAIDs a warming that they could lead to kidney damage; these medicines remain the number one over the counter pills bought in the USA. Today, such non-prescription pills are still the number one selling in the USA, with billions of bottles being sold.

Your kidneys are normally affected by your blood glucose levels (whether you are diabetic or not), your blood pressure, your weight, and having a disparity between the good and bad intestinal microorganisms.

While kidneys might seem too complicated to be well maintained, the good news is that their monitoring is nothing but inexpensive blood and urine tests that can serve as very effective indicators.

The Global Burden of Kidney Diseases

The National Kidney Foundation explained that chronic kidney disease is affecting 10% of people, worldwide, killing millions of individuals who do not afford receiving a proper treatment. A study focusing on the global burden of this illness placed chronic kidney disease as the number 27th killer in 1990 that became the number 18thin year 2010. Such a finding clearly pinpoints the importance of an early detection that could possibly prevent any advancement to later less manageable stages.

Two million is the number of people being treated with either dialysis and kidney transplant. It is also the number of people being treated for kidney failure. The majority of such treatments are happening in the USA, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Italy. Also, 80% of these two million are living in affluent countries.

Noting that people in China and India are aging which is increasing the total number of elderly living in these countries, kidney failure rates re expected to be on the rise.

If you are between the ages of 64 and 75; then, you ought to know that one in every five men and one in every four women has chronic kidney failure.

While the main causes of death were attributed to communicable diseases in the past, such as Malaria, HIV and AIDS); the numbers have been shifting in the recent years. Now, chronic non-communicable disease are the main causes of early death worldwide. The cost is tremendous as far the years of potential life lost. Such a cost is mostly the burden of low to middle income countries that account for 80% of these premature deaths.

Chronic Kidney Disease is a global burden that requires immediate attention. When this disease is diagnosed early and followed up with the proper treatment; then, the disease will stop progressing. Kidney disease has both an impact on the quality of life of its patients, and a big burden on the economical status of populations.

Kidney Health In The USA

When some get diagnosed with a kidney disease, this normally indicates that his or her kidneys are damaged. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases reports the following:

  • 14% of Americans have Chronic Kidney Disease.
  • The main causes of CKD are blood pressure and diabetes. Half of these cases have another cardiovascular disease in addition to diabetes.
  • Most diagnosed patients with CKD did not show any signs at the early stage of their condition. This is the reason why it is referred to as the silent disease.
  • Around 660,000 Americans have kidney failure and 468,000 among them are already undergoing dialysis. Also, about 193,000 of them are living with a kidney transplant. A third of these latter obtained their kidneys from people who are alive, maybe a relative or a friend.
  • The slope of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) has been fluctuating over the years. The incidence rates of this disease increased abruptly between the years 1980 and 1990; then, leveled off year 2000 to witness a slight decline in 2006. This improvement is the result of the awareness that has been circulating regarding monitoring the symptoms and have a routine check up done to make sure no abrupt dysfunction happens.
  • Focusing on the ESRD, your race does play some risk on the prevalence of the disease. For instance, African Americans had a 3.7 times higher rates than Caucasians, while Native Americans had it 1.4 times higher and 1.5 for Asian Americans.
  • In the USA, yearly, kidney disease is causing the death of more people than any other illness, namely breast and prostate cancer. Year 2013, for example, witnessed 47,000 death due to kidney disease.
  • Studies show that women are at higher risk of developing CKD than men. We can compare the rates: 15.93% for women compared to 13.52% for men.

While awareness regarding kidney’s health is essential, reports explain that it is minimal for stages 1, 2 and 3 of Chronic Kidney Disease. On the other hand, it seems that they have been trying their best to raise awareness intensively for stage 4 of the disease.

Those who have Chronic Kidney Disease are usually at higher risks of having cardiovascular diseases that can become complicated to be treated. About 70% of those who are 66 years of age and older and have Chronic Kidney Disease, have cardiovascular illnesses while the numbers are 40% for those who do not have CKD. Also, heart surgeries are higher among these latter.

Courtesy of TheDiabetesCouncil.com

Kidney Health and Routine Testing

To keep your kidneys in good shape, you have to routinely monitor their proper functions by doing the needed tests. Kidney function testing has to be included in the general check up examinations that ones does routinely. Having evaluations done by a laboratory, is the only way to make sure your kidneys are well and the best way to detect any poor kidney function, at its very first stages. Some tests are done by taking a blood sample, while others are by taking a urine sample. Here are the tests that are recommended:

1- Blood tests should include: GFR (Glomerular filtration rate) that has a tendency to decrease with age, BUN and Creatinine, as well as Crystatin C that is a very sensitive indicator.

2- Urine tests, also known as urinalysis, should include the urine output and specific gravity that indicate how much urine is produced and what is its concentration. Also, urine protein, can be a great way to detect if there is any chronic disease progression caused by an underlying chronic illness like diabetes and blood pressure.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease includes any condition that affects the organs’ ability, over time, to do its job. Every year, millions of people are affected by debilitating kidney disease, some with chronic disorders. This situation results in billions of dollars spent on healthcare costs topped by a loss of productivity. Classified into five stages, each represents a level of declining kidney function, with stages one and two considered mild. Stages four and five are considered advanced. About 550,000 Americans suffer from kidney failure in its advanced stages and require dialysis or transplantation to survive.

People with kidney disease are usually classified as having it in its “acute” or “chronic” form. Acute kidney disease refers to conditions that worsen quickly, over hours or days. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) refers to a change in the proper functioning of the kidney that occurs over weeks or months and can be long-lasting. More than 26 million Americans are living with CKD.

Causes of kidney disease

The four main causes of kidney disease are:

Genetic factors – mutations in genes can result in kidney disease including the most common - polycystic disorder (PKD).

Environmental factors – includes improper diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Toxic exposure to chemicals and certain medications can also affect kidney function.

Diabetes – a devastating disease that can affect numerous organs, including the kidneys, by increasing its workload and causing inflammatory changes; a leading cause of kidney failure.

Hypertension – also known as high blood pressure, it is the second most common cause of kidney disease in the U.S. especially among African-Americans. Kidneys are designed to handle normal blood pressure levels, so uncontrolled high blood pressure causes inflammatory changes and extra stress on the kidneys.

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Your body usually sends you a signal when the kidneys are in distress. However, some kidney disease patients have reported little to no clear symptoms until their kidney dysfunction is advanced. The following are important signs to note and have checked right away:

Changes in color or consistency of urine – including reddish or dark that indicates the presence of blood (hematuria); bubbly or frothy that can mean protein leakage (proteinuria). Bloody urine, in particular, should never be ignored.

Difficulty with urination – for men, it can be maintaining a steady flow stream and frequent urination at night (nocturia) which can point to either prostate trouble or kidney disease; for women it can be high frequency and a burning sensation, indicating urinary tract infection (UTI) or possibly an early stage of kidney infection.

Edema – swelling in the legs, feet, ankles, hands, around the eyes and in the abdomen, caused by excess fluid when the kidneys are unable to properly eliminate water and salt.

Uremic symptoms – a level of severity in kidney dysfunction that can cause nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, no appetite, food tasting “metallic,” itching, among other symptoms.

Common Kidney Tests

Some healthcare providers advocate that, even if no symptoms are present, you should have an annual physical with the proper blood work. This is the primary means of determining kidney disease. In fact, a routine blood test can reveal a great deal about how your kidneys are working. Among typical blood work report values:

Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) – shows how well your kidneys are doing their filtering job. The small filters within the kidneys are called glomeruli.

Creatinine Level – a kidney-specific blood test of the material (creatinine) produced by muscles and filtered by the kidneys; a good indicator of kidney function along with GFR rates.

Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) – high levels can mean severe dehydration; when used in combination with other tests can help determine overall kidney function.

In addition to blood work, a urinalysis is generally administered. A simple but effective test involving a urine sample, the urinalysis can identify presence of blood, bacteria, protein and glucose (a sign of diabetes). Even when the urine color and consistency appear normal to the naked eye, microscopic changes are not visible, so a urinalysis can detect early signs of kidney disease.

If further studies are warranted, additional blood work may be ordered, along with imaging tests that may include a CT scan or an MRI. Comprehensive screenings for early detection of kidney disease are also available through the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Visit https://www.kidney.org/news/keep for details.

Kidneys and Burning Urination

Burning urination is once you notice a burning feeling when you urinate. That feeling may be present as your urine passes from the body and/or inside the body, in areas like the bladder or prostate gland. Many conditions can cause this feeling, including urinary tract infections, inflammatory conditions, several sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and some kidney problems, for example. So how to diagnose burning urination? You will probably need the help of a health care professional for a solid diagnosis of the causes in your case, but here is what you need to know about that process.

Symptoms Assessment

This is the first step to diagnosing burning urination, since this problem can be caused by a rather long list of conditions. Knowing what other symptoms may also be present can help narrow that list. Symptoms that typically accompany burning or painful urination include:

  • Urine that is bloody, cloudy or has an unusual and/or foul odor
  • Urination issues, such as frequent urination, passing small amounts of urine, involuntary urine leakage, very concentrated (dark yellow) urine, or urges to urinate when your bladder is empty
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Bumps or rashes on or around the genitals
  • Itching or inflammation (swelling) on or around the genitals
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Pain in the lower back or side
  • Prostate pain

Make a note of any symptoms you are experiencing, and any others not listed here. Note how long and how often you have had them, and whether they appeared suddenly or gradually. These details can help in diagnosing burning urination.

Other details that may be important to your diagnosis include health conditions you may have, such as diabetes, allergies or immune system disorders. Any medication or supplements you take also play a part. You may also be asked for a sexual history to determine whether STDs may be at the root of your burning urination problem. If you are female, a pregnancy test may be necessary, as this can be a possible reason.

You will likely also be asked about other factors that may cause irritation or inflammation in the urinary tract and/or genitals. These may include whether you are using any new soaps or other personal care products, engaged in activities like bicycle or horseback riding, or whether you have had any recent medical procedures or treatments that might contribute to your symptoms.

Tests Commonly Used to Help Diagnose Burning Urination

Using clues provided by your symptoms’ assessment, your healthcare professional may recommend a variety of tests that can help diagnose the cause or causes of burning urination. Among the most common of these are:

Urinalysis

This test analyzes a sample of your urine. It looks for white blood cells, red blood cells, proteins and abnormal chemicals in the sample, among other indicators, to screen for inflammation in the urinary tract.

Urine Culture

This lab test looks for signs of infection in a urine sample and helps identify the specific bacteria causing that infection. It can also help your healthcare professional determine which antibiotics are best to use in treating bacterial infections.

Swab Tests

Under certain circumstances, healthcare professionals may use a swab to take a sample, which will be sent to a lab to check for signs of infection. For example, in females with burning urination, swab samples may be taken from the vagina or urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body), or men in whom burning urination is accompanied by discharge from the penis may have swab samples of that fluid sent to the lab to aid diagnosis.

STD Screening Tests

STDs are a common cause of burning urination. For that reason, testing for these diseases is often recommended in sexually active people who experience this problem. This may include urine tests to check for signs of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis, as well as blood tests to look for other STDs that can cause burning urination, such as herpes or syphilis. HIV testing may also be recommended in some cases, since this viral infection can weaken the immune system, enabling frequent urinary tract infections or other opportunistic infections that can lead to burning urination.

Yeast Infection Tests

Vaginal yeast infections are another common cause of burning urination. Tests that are often used to detect these infections include urine tests, which look for yeast in a urine sample, and swab tests that look for signs of yeast overgrowth in vaginal fluids.

Kidney Function Tests

If your burning urination has been going on for a long time and/or is accompanied by symptoms like back pain, fever and chills, bloody urine or changes in normal urination habits, your healthcare professional may recommend some tests to determine how well your kidneys are functioning. Common tests for this purpose include:

Basic Metabolic Panel

Checks levels of glucose, calcium, chloride, carbon dioxide, potassium and sodium in a blood sample, as well as BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine, providing important indicators of kidney health and function.

BUN/Creatinine Ratio

Uses a blood sample to measure levels of these waste products in the body to evaluate kidney function.

Kidney Function Panel

Measures levels of electrolytes, proteins, minerals, waste products and sugar in a blood sample to assess kidney function.

Prostate Testing

Prostate tests may be recommended for men with burning urination. These typically include blood tests to check for signs of prostate cancer, like the PSA tests, and in some cases, medical imaging.

Other testing that may be done include examinations of the bladder and other components of the urinary tract with ultrasound or other medical imaging techniques, and neurological tests to look for nerve damage that can cause painful or burning urination.

In most cases, burning or painful urination can be treated successfully, reducing or eliminating your discomfort. Typically, this involves treating the underlying causes, which most often means medications, such as antibiotics for urinary tract infections and some STDs, antiviral medications for herpes or HIV, or antifungal treatment for yeast infections, for instance. Of course, you will need medical help and an accurate diagnosis to get the right treatment, so working with your healthcare provider is essential. Just like any other illness or symptom, kidney diseases can begin minor and advance, if left untreated. So, if you are witnessing any uncommon symptoms, you need to be tested. Getting tested can be simpler than taking a physician’s appointment, waiting for your turn in the waiting area, having him order the needed tests for you, heading to the testing centers and waiting for the results. Getting tested with us will help you skip all these time and money consuming steps and head straight to getting yourself a sample taken and receiving your results, delivered to you. The medical field is evolving and so are the health care services. There was a time when people used to die from the regular flu; and, there was a time when you would have never been able to order yourself a given diagnostic test without a prescription from your physician. Time change and so do people!

Kidney disease treatment options

Kidney Failure

Kidney or renal failure, is a condition in which the kidneys fail to adequately filter waste products from the blood. It is a potentially life-threatening condition in which kidney function deteriorates. It can be acute, happening rapidly and suddenly, but is more often chronic, occurring slowly over a number of years. Early detection and treatment of kidney failure can help prevent its progression into extensive and irreversible kidney damage. Since, kidney failure symptoms often do not appear until the kidneys have lost much of their normal function, diagnostic testing is an important means of identifying the condition before that permanent damage has occurred.

Each of our two kidneys contains up to a million tiny filtering units, called nephrons, which filter about 200 quarts of fluid every 24 hours, expelling approximately 2 quarts of that fluid as urine and returning the rest to the bloodstream. Through that process, the kidneys remove waste products from the body, clear drugs from the bloodstream, and balance body fluids and electrolytes. Kidneys also produce an active form of vitamin D that is essential to bone health, as well as hormones that regulate blood pressure and stimulate red blood cell production.

Acute kidney failure develops quickly over a few hours or days, the kidneys suddenly becoming unable to filter waste products from the blood. Acute kidney failure can be fatal without intensive medical intervention, but may be reversible in many cases with proper treatment. Common causes include:

Impaired blood flow to the kidneys, stemming from severe blood loss, infection, cardiovascular disease, liver failure, certain medications, or severe dehydration, allergic reactions or burns. Direct injury to the kidneys, caused by trauma, blood clots, infection, toxins or a variety of diseases and medications.

Urine blockage, which can be the result of certain cancers, blood clots in the urinary tract, kidney stones, nerve damage or an enlarged prostate.

Chronic kidney failure, also called chronic kidney disease or chronic renal failure, is a slow, steady loss of kidney function over a period of months or years. Left untreated, the condition can progress to permanent kidney failure, or end-stage kidney disease, in which the kidneys have lost 90 percent or more of their functional capacity. At this point, artificial blood filtration (dialysis) or a kidney transplant is necessary for patient survival. Common causes of chronic kidney failure include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Inflammatory conditions affecting the kidneys
  • Recurrent kidney infection
  • Prolonged urinary tract obstruction

Kidney Failure Symptoms

For many people, kidney failure symptoms do not start appearing not until the kidney function is severely inhibited. When symptoms are presented, they are the result of a buildup of waste products in the body.

General malaise is the most common symptom reported in the initial stages of kidney failure, with patients typically experiencing issues that can include fatigue, itching, headaches, poor appetite, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and frequent urination.

Edema can occur as kidney failure worsens, beginning with puffiness in the eye area, hands, feet and legs, then often progressing into fluid buildup in the lungs and around the heart.

Cardiovascular symptoms can occur with advancing kidney failure, such as elevated blood pressure production of hormones by the kidneys that regulate it becomes impaired, and changes in heart rate and rhythm as the kidneys fail to maintain proper electrolyte balance

Kidney failure can begin to affect the brain and nervous system as it progresses, causing problems like drowsiness, confusion, trouble concentrating, muscle cramps, or twitching and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.

Changes in urination are common as kidney failure develops. Individuals may urinate more often or in greater amounts than usual, with pale urine, or they may urinate less often or in smaller amounts, with dark, concentrated urine. There may be blood in the urine or pressure, pain with urination.

How Kidney Failure is Diagnosed

Kidney failure, since it is often a silent disease, is often detected by physicians through routine health screenings or as a patient is treated for other medical concerns. When a patient shows symptoms of kidney failure or a physician suspects it due to a family history of kidney disease or underlying health factors, tests typically ordered to diagnose or confirm kidney failure include:

1. Blood tests to check for high levels of waste products in the bloodstream, such as urea and creatinine, and other markers that can indicate kidney disease.

2. Urine tests to detect blood and/or protein in the urine

3. Kidney scans, which may include MRI, CT or ultrasound imaging, to check for blockages and check the size and shape of kidneys.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 26 million Americans are affected by kidney disease and millions more are at risk. While knowing the symptoms of kidney failure is important, regular testing, especially in individuals with known risk factors, such as diabetes, hypertension, or a family history of kidney disorders, can be the key to early detection of this often-life-threatening condition.

Commonly Asked Questions about Kidney Disease

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is an artificial means of filtration prescribed by healthcare providers to allow toxin removal, thereby doing the job that kidneys normally perform. Dialysis also removes excess water from the body. As a general rule, dialysis is usually prescribed when kidney function is less than 10 percent and about 15 percent when the kidney disease is diabetes-related. However, decisions are made on an individual basis in consultation with your healthcare provider.

What are some other complications from kidney disorders?

With declined kidney function, there is an increased risk for other health conditions. For example, kidney disease increases the risk for heart attacks, similar to high cholesterol and smoking risks.

Fluid build-up, called edema, may result, impairing breathing and raising blood pressure. Low levels of red blood cells, or anemia, is another complication. Loss of kidney function can also lead to blood acidity, causing bad breath; low levels of vitamin D, causing brittle bones; or high levels of potassium that can lead to a heart attack. The good news is that the two leading causes of kidney failure – diabetes and hypertension – are preventable.

How important is diet and lifestyle to kidney disease?

Since diabetes, obesity and hypertension play a leading role in developing kidney disease, diet and lifestyle are critical to the health of your kidneys, as well as to your overall health.Here are a few recommendations to keep your kidneys in good shape:

1- Make sure you are not overusing NSAIDs pills. Try to minimize their use to the lowest best effective dose and over the shorter period of time.

2- Following the Mediterranean or the DASH diet that refers to Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Both rely on consuming a low amount of animal protein. They also stay steer of carbohydrates that have high glycemic indexes. From another angle, such diets rely on consuming a lot of vegetables, fruits, and fibers. As for their preferred kind of fat: it is the unsaturated one such as olive oil.

3- Taking some vitamin D pills have been proven to keep both your kidneys and heart in good condition.

4- Omega 3 Fatty Acids are great supplements for those who might be at risk of having kidney diseases; or, simply for those who want to keep them healthy. This fatty acid can help decrease the likelihood of having chronic kidney disease. It can also lower your blood pressure, lower your urine proteins levels, and control any inflammation or high triglycerides levels in those who may have kidney disease.

5- Prebiotics and Probiotics can help regulate your gut bacteria. They can help controlling the levels of toxins that could lead to kidney disease.

These recommendations are great for those who want to keep their kidneys in good shape; however, if you already have any kidney disease, you may need to talk to your health care provider first before making any amendments to your lifestyle and dietary habits.

So, what can I do to help prevent kidney disease?

Though every situation is different, there are some common guidelines to follow that can help improve your lifestyle and your health status. Among them:

Maintain a healthy weight and exercise. At the least, improve your diet by adding more fruits and vegetables; walk 4- 5 times a week and monitor your weight to avoid obesity.

Read food labels to reduce salt and potassium intake, both of which, in excess, can be detrimental to blood pressure. Limit fat intake to help with weight loss and cholesterol levels.

Manage your blood pressure through regular check-ups.

Consider you risk factors and decide if a blood test to check the status of your kidney function and to watch for diabetes might be helpful.

Don’t smoke or if you do, stop. Smoking is not only toxic to the kidneys but it can raise blood pressure; inflammation levels and increases your risk of developing cancer.

Reduce everyday stress (exercise helps); consider yoga, tai chi or other forms of meditation. Use the power of laughter and music to help relax. Remember that preventative care and healing go beyond the physical.

Get plenty of rest. The body restores itself through sleep. If you have sleep apnea, follow-up on a treatment plan and be sure to discuss your sleep problems with a healthcare provider.

What are kidney stones?

Also known as nephrolithiasis, kidney stones are one of the most common kidney diseases. Kidney stones come in different composition and sizes. Each stone has a different risk factor associated to it. 76% of these stones are made of Calcium oxalates and are due to high levels of calcium in the urine. Other types of stones include calcium phosphate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. Having a routine kidney function test is one of the best indicators to the formation of such stones.

Important Facts about your Kidney Health

Our kidneys are small, but powerful organs, their critical functions essential to supporting health and well-being and sustaining life. They remove waste products and drugs from the body, balance fluids and electrolytes, release hormones to regulate blood pressure, produce an active form of vitamin D that supports bone health and control red blood cell production, among other important functions. Here, we'll share 10 things that you need to hear about your kidneys – because the bottom line is that these two small organs are among the most important ones in your body.

1. How Your Kidneys Work

Your kidneys are the waste filters of your cardiovascular system. Located at the back of your lower abdomen, these two bean-shaped organs contain about a million little filtering units called nephrons. They process about 200 quarts of your blood every day yielding 2 quarts of excess fluid and waste that is expelled from your body as urine. This filtering process keeps the composition of your blood stable – a necessity for the proper function of virtually all major systems and organs in the body.

2. How Common are Kidney Problems

According to CDC estimates (PDF), more than 10 percent of adults, or over 20 million people, in the U.S. have kidney disease of varying levels of seriousness. Kidney disease is becoming a bigger burden on both people and countries. The impact is more significant for developing and under developed nations where patients are underdiagnosed and cannot afford a proper treatment. This illness is not just the burden of developing countries; but of rich countries too.

3. Causes of Kidney Disease

According to the National Kidney Foundation, the two main causes of kidney disease, responsible for up to 75 percent of cases, are kidney damage from diabetes and high blood pressure. Other causes include Glomerulonephritis, which is a group of diseases that cause inflammation and damage in the kidneys, polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disease that causes large cysts to develop in the kidneys, congenital kidney malformations, auto-immune diseases and repeated urinary tract infections.

4. How to Tell If You Have Healthy Kidneys

Kidney disease often has no obvious symptoms until it is quite advanced, so blood and urine tests are the most accurate way to tell if your kidneys are healthy. Renal (kidney) function panels measure factors that include levels of waste products in the blood, such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, as well as levels of potassium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium, albumin and chloride, among others, that can help your doctor determine how well your kidneys are functioning. Urine tests look for protein in the urine, which can indicate kidney problems.

5. Risks of Untreated Kidney Disease

Kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is the main risk of untreated kidney disease, and occurs when kidney function deteriorates to the point that a patient must undergo dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.

6. Lifestyle Factors That Can Harm Kidneys

Lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of kidney disease include smoking, excessive alcohol use, overuse of over-the-counter or prescription pain medications and being overweight or obese.

  • Smoking lowers the proper blood flow to the kidneys and aggravates the effect of diabetes and high blood pressure on the body. When you smoke, you are playing an important role in the progression of chronic kidney disease. According to many studies, smoking is one of the most impactful causes of ESRD. Your kidneys will be harmed in numerous ways when smoking. For example, it can increase your blood pressure and heart rate. It can also increase the levels of the angiotensin II hormone in the kidneys. Smoking is also capable of thickening and hardening your renal arteries, injuring your arterioles, and constricting your kidney’s blood vessels. From another angle, the American Association of Kidney Patients explains that Tobacco and other toxins increases the risk of proteinuria, which is when the urine contains high levels of protein.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle can lead to obesity and overweight, which in its turn, increases the likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease. Also, sitting down for a long period of time can affect your kidneys. The rationale behind this claim is not yet fully understood; but, when you sit down for an extended period of time, you might be restricting the proper flow of blood, interfering with a proper glucose metabolism, and both are essential for a well-functioning kidney.
  • Processed food, that is also high in Salt, can be bad for your kidneys for many reasons. First of all, sodium can increase your blood pressure. Second, such food options are high in phosphorus, which is a mineral that has to be taken in moderation when at risk for kidney diseases. Even in the absence of a kidney illness, high phosphorus food can damage your kidneys.
  • Heavy drinking, at a continuous pace, can double your risk for ending up with chronic kidney disease. If drinking is accompanied by smoking, these risks are five times higher.

7. Lifestyle Factors That Promote Healthy Kidneys

Being physically fit can lower your risk of kidney disease, so get plenty of regular exercise. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar is essential to maintaining kidney health, as is controlling blood pressure if you suffer from hypertension and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

8. Foods That Can Help Keep Kidneys Healthy

The National Kidney Disease Education Program recommends plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy to support kidney health.

9. Dietary Factors That Can Be Bad for Kidneys

Perhaps the most damaging dietary factor in terms of kidney disease risk is excessive salt intake. The National Kidney Disease Education Program recommends keeping sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams daily. Excessive amounts of protein and fats in the diet can also stress the kidneys, so limiting these to healthy proportions can help protect kidney health.

10. How to Improve Impaired Kidney Function

If your doctor has determined that your kidneys aren't functioning as well as they should, there are a number of things you can do to improve kidney function or help prevent further deterioration. Dietary changes often help, such as limiting salt, potassium, protein and phosphorus in your diet. Seeing a nutritionist for professional help in structuring a healthy kidney diet is your best bet. If you are overweight, losing those extra pounds will reduce your kidneys' daily workload, as will staying away from alcohol and any drugs – prescription, over-the-counter, herbal or illicit – that haven't been specifically cleared with your doctor. Smoking can worsen existing kidney disease, so if you're in the habit, quit. Last, but not least, if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, controlling these conditions very carefully is crucial to preventing further kidney damage.

References

A.D.A.M. MedlinePlus web page. BUN – blood test: Blood urea nitrogen.

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