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What Do Your Kidneys Do?

overhead shot of people in formation to make a set of kidneysWe know about things that can go wrong with our kidneys—kidney infections, kidney disease, kidney failure—but have you ever wondered what kidneys actually do and how they work?

March is National Kidney Month, and March 10 is World Kidney Day. Both of these observances serve to raise awareness about the importance of kidneys. Understanding how kidneys function can go a long ways when it comes to maintaining their health and preventing disease.

Meet your kidneys

Your kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist. They are located deep in the abdomen, just below your rib cage on opposite sides of the spine. These organs perform several important functions; they:

  • Filter blood of toxins and excess water
  • Maintain an adequate level of bodily fluids
  • Produce red blood cells
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Keep your bones healthy
  • Control the levels of many minerals and molecules in your blood
  • Help control blood acidity

Your kidneys are filters—and, not just two filters. Each kidney is made up of about 1 million filtering units known as nephron. Each nephron is made up of a filter called a glomerulus as well as a tubule. All of these filters work together to prevent blood cells and large molecules (mostly proteins) from passing. As explained by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website, these filtered fluids then pass through tubules, which send needed minerals back to the bloodstream and remove wastes. Urine is the final product.

The kidneys are part of your urinary system, which is also known as the renal system. Urine flows from your kidneys through the ureters to the bladder. From there it is expelled from the body through the urethra. Each day, your kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to make about 1 to 2 quarts of urine—urine is made up of wastes and extra fluid.[1]

A quick look at kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease occurs when kidney function is lost over time; it can lead to complications such as high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage. It can also increase your risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

Properly functioning kidneys are key to good health. As such, it is important to be aware of risk factors for kidney disease and how to keep your kidneys as healthy as possible.

Risk factors for chronic kidney disease include the following[2],[3],[4],[5],[6]:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • African American, Native American, Hispanic Asian American heritage
  • Family history of kidney failure
  • Being age 60 or older
  • Lupus and other autoimmune disorders
  • Prolonged use of NSAIDS—a type of painkiller that includes ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Low birth weight
  • Kidney stones
  • Chronic urinary tract infections

High blood pressure and diabetes are the two main causes of chronic kidney disease and are responsible for up to two-thirds of the cases.[7]

Kidney health basics

Some of the risk factors for chronic kidney disease are inherited and uncontrollable, while others are controllable to a great extent. Some ways you can help protect your kidneys include[8],[9]:

  • Maintaining healthy weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Following a balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Not smoking
  • Drinking moderately
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking prescribed medications
  • Avoiding over-the-counter medications that can damage kidneys (e.g., aspirin, naxoproxin, ibuprofen)

It is also advised you get an annual physical and receive any tests or screenings your healthcare provider recommends. Detecting and treating kidney disease early can help prevent or delay kidney failure. Left untreated, kidney disease can get worse, lead to kidney failure and even be fatal.

Make sure your healthcare provider knows your family health history, and be sure to discuss any concerns you may have about kidney health with this individual.

 

 

 

References

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “At Risk for Kidney Disease?” March 5, 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/nkdep/learn/causes-kidney-disease/at-risk/Pages/are-you-at-risk.aspx

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Kidney Disease Basics.” March 1, 2012. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/nkdep/learn/causes-kidney-disease/kidney-disease-basics/Pages/kidney-disease-basics.aspx

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “The Kidneys and How They Work.” Last revised May 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Anatomy/kidneys-how-they-work/Pages/anatomy.aspx

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Chronic Kidney Disease: Risk Factors.” MayoClinic.org. Jan. 30, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-disease/basics/risk-factors/con-20026778

National Kidney Foundation. “About Chronic Kidney Disease.” https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/aboutckd

National Kidney Foundation. “Six-Step Health Primer.” https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/sixstepshealthprimer

National Kidney Foundation. “Your Kidneys: Do You Know These Facts?” https://www.kidney.org/prevention/your-kidneys-do-you-know-these-facts

Web MD. “Your Kidneys and How They Work.” http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/function-kidneys

World Kidney Day. “Your Amazing Kidneys.” http://www.worldkidneyday.org/faqs/your-kidneys/

 


[1] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “The Kidneys and How They Work.” Last revised May 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Anatomy/kidneys-how-they-work/Pages/anatomy.aspx

[2] National Kidney Foundation. “About Chronic Kidney Disease.” https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/aboutckd

[3] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Kidney Disease Basics.” March 1, 2012. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/nkdep/learn/causes-kidney-disease/kidney-disease-basics/Pages/kidney-disease-basics.aspx

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Chronic Kidney Disease: Risk Factors.” MayoClinic.org. Jan. 30, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-disease/basics/risk-factors/con-20026778

[5] National Kidney Foundation. “About Chronic Kidney Disease.” https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/aboutckd

[6] National Kidney Foundation. “Six-Step Health Primer.” https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/sixstepshealthprimer

[7] National Kidney Foundation. “About Chronic Kidney Disease.” https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/aboutckd

[8] National Kidney Foundation. “Six-Step Health Primer.” https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/sixstepshealthprimer

[9] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Keep Your Kidneys Healthy.” Sept. 17, 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/nkdep/learn/causes-kidney-disease/keep-kidneys-healthy/Pages/keep-kidneys-healthy.aspx

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