March is National Kidney Month, and the National Kidney Foundation urges people to remember their kidneys for a checkup. The kidneys are two fist-sized organs in your lower back.
They maintain overall health through the following functions:
- Filtering waste out of 200 liters of blood each day.
- Regulating the body's salt, potassium, and acid content.
- Removing drugs from the body.
- Balancing the body's fluids.
- Releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure.
- Producing an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones.
The kidneys are also prone to disease; 1 in 3 Americans is at risk for kidney disease due to diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of kidney failure. More than 30 million Americans already have kidney disease, and most don’t know it because there are often no symptoms until the disease has progressed.
The numbers may seem staggering — kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the nation, and more than 95,000 people are waiting for kidney transplants.
Kidney disease experts predict the number of people at risk for the disease will increase in coming years because of the high rate of obesity in the U.S. – obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are all risk factors – as is cardiovascular disease, family history, and age.
The National Kidney Foundation urges people to take good overall care of their health to protect their kidneys. That means exercising regularly, maintaining a low-salt diet, controlling weight, monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels; refraining from smoking; drinking moderately, avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and getting an annual physical.
Unfortunately, many people have no chronic kidney disease symptoms until the disease is in its advanced stages.
Signs of advancing CKD include swollen ankles, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, decreased appetite, blood in the urine, and foamy urine.
Most people know that the kidneys' major function is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body. These waste products and excess fluid are removed through the urine. The production of urine involves highly complex steps of excretion and re-absorption. This process is necessary to maintain a stable balance of body chemicals.
The kidneys also perform the critical regulation of the body's salt, potassium, and acid content. The kidneys are powerful chemical factories that perform the following functions:
- remove waste products from the body
- remove drugs from the body
- balance the body's fluids
- release hormones that regulate blood pressure
- produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones
- control the production of red blood cells
Most people hear about kidneys when they learn about kidney stones. Kidney stones are prevalent, but when they “pass” out of your system, they are known to cause severe pain in your back and side. Kidney stones are caused by several things – including having an inherited disorder that causes too much calcium to be absorbed from foods and urinary tract infections or obstructions.
For people with too large stones to pass, a physician may perform treatments to break them down into smaller pieces.
Drugs and toxins can also cause kidney problems. Physicians will warn that using a lot of over-the-counter pain relievers over an extended period of time may cause harm to your kidneys. Of course, toxins, pesticides, and illegal drugs such as heroin and crack can cause extensive kidney damage.
During National Kidney Month, it’s important to learn that early detection and treatment of chronic kidney disease may keep kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure. You can ask your physician to test for protein levels in your urine, specifically looking for excessive amounts – that means your kidneys are not filtering correctly. You can also be tested for blood creatinine, which will help determine how much kidney function exists.
Remember, ultimately, many kidney diseases can be treated successfully. If you have any concerns, see your primary care physician, who may refer you to a kidney specialist to explain the different treatment approaches available.