Keeping Up With Kidney Health

If you’re like most people, you have two kidneys, the bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist that lie just below the rib cage, one on each side of your spine. March is National Kidney Month, so let’s review what the kidneys do, examine a few common diseases that can affect them, and learn some ways you can help keep them healthy.

Adult and child holding kidney shaped paper, world kidney day, National Organ Donor Day, charity donation concept

The primary job of the kidneys is to filter waste products and excess fluid from your blood, but they perform other functions as well. They also help regulate blood pressure, make red blood cells, control the pH level in your body, and keep your bones healthy. Each of your kidneys is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons.

But the kidneys are susceptible to damage and disease. The most common condition affecting the kidneys is chronic kidney disease, or CKD. According to the National Kidney Foundation, CKD affects an estimated 37 million people in the US. That’s 15 percent of the adult population, or 1 in 7 individuals. And 90 percent of those who have CKD don’t know they have it.

With CKD, your kidneys become damaged, usually by diabetes or high blood pressure, and can’t function properly. This can cause waste products to build up in your body, which can result in health problems such as anemia and heart disease. Uncontrolled CKD can lead to kidney failure, but early intervention can slow its progression and help preserve kidney function longer.

There are other conditions that can affect the kidneys as well. Glomerulonephritis develops when the tiny clusters of blood vessels in the nephrons called glomeruli become inflamed and damaged due to infection or disease and can’t ’do their job of filtering blood. As a result, your kidneys can’t remove wastes and excess fluid from your body. If it becomes severe, glomerulonephritis can lead to kidney failure.

Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, is an inherited disorder in which fluid-filled cysts form throughout the kidneys. This causes the kidneys to become enlarged and lose function. In fact, PKD is the fourth leading cause of kidney failure. There may be other health complications as the kidney cysts grow larger, including high blood pressure, anemia, and liver disease.

The kidneys can also be affected by cancer. There are certain factors that increase your risk for kidney cancer, such as being obese or having a family history of the cancer, but it’s caused by inherited or acquired mutations to the genes that control kidney cell growth and reproduction.

These gene mutations cause the kidney cells to grow out of control and form tumors, which interfere with kidney function. Treatment for kidney cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Another kidney condition is kidney stones, which are hard deposits of minerals and salts. Kidney stones generally don’t cause symptoms while they’re forming, but can cause severe pain once they move into the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney to your urinary bladder. If you can’t pass the stones in your urine, you’ll need medical treatment to prevent infection.

There are things you can do to help prevent problems with your kidneys. First of all, it’s essential that you achieve and maintain good control over any chronic conditions that can lead to kidney damage and loss of function. These conditions include diabetes and high blood pressure.

Here are some other tips for maintaining kidney health:

•          Eat a diet that’s good for your entire body, one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and low in saturated and trans fats, sugar, and salt.

•          Quit smoking.

•          Maintain a healthy weight.

•          Stay active.

•          Get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.

•          Limit your alcohol intake. Men should have no more than two drinks per day; one drink per day for women.

•          Say well-hydrated. Drink fluids throughout the day.

Further, your doctor may also advise you to reduce your protein intake. Your kidneys must work harder to process the wastes that result from protein breakdown.

Follow these tips to prevent kidney disease and keep your kidneys healthy!

Authors:

Patti Dipanfilo

About Patti Dipanfilo

Patti DiPanfilo, Staff Writer for Florida Health Care News, has been a health care writer and editor for close to 25 years. She is a graduate of Gannon University In Erie, Pa, and is experienced in both marketing and educational writing. She joined Florida Health Care News in 2013.

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