Kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are located just below the rib cage. They are responsible for essential functions that keep our blood’s composition stable, allowing the body to function properly. Our kidney filters 120 to 150 quarts of blood every day!
Unfortunately, most people take their kidneys for granted. In the United States for example, most of the 26 million American adults that have kidney disease don’t know it, and African-Americans are three times more likely to experience kidney failure.
“It’s a silent killer, it has very few symptoms, and most people find out that they have kidney disease when they’re in the emergency room and in the advanced stages of the disease,” says Anne Black, chief executive officer of the National Kidney Fund of Illinois. “And at that point, it’s either dialysis or kidney transplant in order to live.”
Why should you take good care of your kidneys? Here are some reasons why:
1. Kidneys help regulate water in our body.
A huge amount of water flows through the entirety of our body. And the body must contain the right amount of water for it to function correctly. No more. No less. Thus, the kidneys work to remove excess water or to retain water when the body needs more.
2. Kidneys help remove wastes from our body.
We owe it to our kidneys that we don’t die from too much waste in our body. And not only do the kidneys remove waste – but they also keep substances found in the blood and bodily fluid at the correct level. In short, kidneys remove excess minerals, like potassium and sodium, which are then excreted in the urine.
3. Kidneys also produce important hormones.
Properly working kidneys produce important hormones, too. These hormones regulate bodily functions like blood pressure, the uptake of calcium and the creation of red blood cells.
“Kidneys also create a hormone that guides bone marrow to make blood, so an unhealthy kidney can cause anemia,” informed Dr. Abha Saxena, nephrologist at UnityPoint Clinic – Diabetes and Kidney Center in Cedar Rapids.
4. An ailing kidney can pose serious health conditions.
One of the most common kidney ailments are kidney stones. These stones are developed when chemicals form crystals in the urine.
These crystals can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. While small stones can be passed with little discomfort, larger stones can lead to severe pain.
5. Chronic kidney disease is a serious medical condition which could lead to other complications.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) happens when there is damage causing decreased kidney functions for a period of three months or longer.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), estimates 10 percent of adults in the United States will develop CKD. CKD can be inherited or acquired, often being caused by diabetes and high blood pressure.
6. Kidney failure is fatal.
Stage 5 of kidney disease is also known as End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). When this occurs, the kidneys do not function correctly, causing waste and excess fluids to accumulate.
In order to maintain life at this stage, a kidney transplant or dialysis is needed.
“Advanced kidney disease causes major burden on life with decrease in overall well being and need for replacement therapy including dialysis,” said Dr. Saxena. “After a kidney replacement, patients are required to take medications for the rest of their life that make them
immunocompromised and prone to infection and cancers, which can lead additional health problems.”
7. Kidney cancer took 13,860 lives in 2014, in the US alone.
Ultimately, the worst kidney ailment one can get is kidney cancer. The most common form of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which occurs when a tumor grows within a kidney. Smoking, obesity and genetics all play a role in one’s risk of developing kidney cancer.
Some Care Tips for Your Kidney
It’s much easier to take a proactive approach toward kidney health. Here are nine ways to take better care of your kidneys, as recommended by the National Kidney Fund of Illinois:
1. Drink more water.
Water is essential in keeping your kidneys healthy because it helps them remove waste from your body and helps blood carry nutrients to them.
Enough hydration prevents kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
So. how much should you drink? Although an eight-glass goal is a good start, every person needs a different amount.
PRO TIP: The Institute of Medicine currently recommends 13 glasses for men and nine for women each day. If you are working in the field as a researcher for example or as a construction worker and is prone to much more sweating throughout the day, drink water more often than normal and much more than the suggested number of glasses under normal circumstance.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Weight indirectly affects your kidneys. Excess weight, especially around your waist, increases the risk of other conditions.
Maintain a healthy, active lifestyle to prevent the accumulation of fat around the waist and maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).
It is important to note that chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension can cause chronic kidney disease, too. So, watch out for your risk factors for diabetes and hypertension.
3. Keep your blood pressure down.
One in three Americans has high blood pressure. Uncontrolled, it’s the second leading cause of kidney failure in the country.
PRO TIP: To avoid this risk, work to keep your blood pressure below 120/80.
As mentioned, exercise is important to keep your weight in check and manage risk factors for diabetes and hypertension. Exercise is one effective way to reduce your blood pressure, according to researchers at the University of Maryland.
PRO TIP: A recommended 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise most days can help.
5. Avoid the pain meds.
Got headaches? Sore muscles? Don’t take Ibuprofen just yet. It’s easy to reach into the medicine cabinet when we have a headache or sore muscles, but over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen reduce the blood flow to the kidneys.
Using too much of these medicines can cause chronic kidney disease.
PRO TIP: Take them only when necessary and at the lowest dosage. Try other natural remedies for headache like increased hydration, rest, and other herbal remedies such as mint oil among others.
6. Mind your alcohol intake.
For most people, having one or two occasional drinks won’t have any serious effects on the kidneys, but excessive drinking certainly will.
One drink is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as one 12-ounce beer, one glass of wine, or one ounce (about a shot) of a hard liquor.
Generally, however, people consume much more, which can cause permanent problems. Binge drinking — having more than five drinks at one time — can cause acute kidney failure, and drinking heavily too much can cause slow, long-term damage that can’t be repaired.
7. Dont smoke. And if you do, stop smoking.
Contrary to common sense, cigarettes affect not only the lungs, smoking also affects the kidneys.
Smokers are more likely to have protein in their urine — a sign that the kidneys are being overworked.
This is intensified if you drink and smoke. That means you are five times more likely to get chronic kidney disease than people who don’t do either.
PRO TIP: Ditch the cigarette. Ask your doctor about ways to help you quit smoking. Yes, quitting is difficult, we know.
8. Abstain from drugs.
Both prescription and recreational drugs are tough on your kidneys. Common prescriptions for drugs like antibiotics and insulin may have to be adjusted if you have kidney problems. That is why you should be very careful not to self-medicate especially if you have existing kidney problems.
On the other hand, illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin can cause damage. Even if you think it’s safe to do so, don’t take any drugs without being under the supervision of a physician.
PRO TIP: Always consult your doctors, Avoid self-medicating, even if it’s a mere headache.
9. Stay away from heavy metals and toxic chemicals.
If your profession requires exposure to heavy metals and toxic chemicals, beware. The kidney is the first organ to absorb this type of toxicity.
PRO TIP: If you feel you’ve feel exposed, tell your doctor so that you can get tested. The toxin can sometimes be removed so that it doesn’t cause any further problems.
Some Symptoms of Kidney Failure You Should Watch Out For
You might not notice any problems if you have chronic kidney disease that’s in the early stages. Most people don’t have symptoms at that point.
As pointed out earlies, ignorance of the existence of kidney problems could further worsen the problem as you may take substances that are not good for an ailing kidney.
If your chronic kidney disease is already more advanced, you may:
- Be vomiting or often feel like you’re going to
- Pee more often than normal, or less often
- See “foam” in your pee
- Have swelling, particularly of the ankles, and puffiness around the eyes
- Feel tired or short of breath all the time
- Not feel like eating
- Not be able to taste much
- Have muscle cramps, especially in your legs
- Have very dry, itchy skin
- Sleep poorly
- Lose weight for no obvious reason
A child with chronic kidney disease may also feel worn out and sleepier than usual, have less appetite than normal, and not be growing as expected.
See the doctor when:
Make an appointment if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. There could be other possible causes, but you’ll need to see your doctor to find out what the problem is and what treatment you need.
If you’re at risk — you have high blood pressure or diabetes, or if kidney disease runs in your family, for instance — ask your doctor how often you’ll need to get tested. It’s very important to do this so your kidneys can work as well as possible.
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World Kidney Day. (2017). 8 Golden Rules – World Kidney Day. [online] Available at: http://www.worldkidneyday.org/faqs/take-care-of-your-kidneys/8-golden-rules/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].
Patient.info. (2016). How to take care of your kidneys | Doctor Sarah Jarvis health blog. [online] Available at: https://patient.info/blogs/sarah-says/2016/12/how-to-take-care-of-your-kidneys [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].
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