March is National Kidney Awareness Month. Protection of your kidneys is important for many reasons. Proper kidney function can literally be a matter of life or death.
The kidneys are a pair of organs four or five inches long located in the back of the abdomen. Miki Soudaly-Riley, a registered nurse, told MSR, “The kidneys are basically a filter in your body. They filter out the bad toxins from what we eat and drink, then make urine for you to excrete it out of your body.
“Kidneys circulate the good nutrients back into your blood stream. If you have renal insufficiency or failure you have to have dialysis, which is basically doing the work of your kidneys. [Dialysis] filters the toxins out of your blood and returns the ‘good’ filtered blood back to you.
“It is starting to be more of a common disease than in the past years, and it is mainly because of the high number of people living with high blood pressure. Hypertension is a direct correlation and sometimes a cause of renal failure or insufficiency.
When all else fails, you have to try a kidney transplant if there is a donor available. People can live with only one kidney. There are many medications and diet restrictions, but it is possible,” said Soudaly-Riley.
How can we keep our kidneys healthy? According to the National Institute on Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one important thing we can do is keep our blood pressure within an appropriate range. Diabetes patients should monitor their blood glucose levels. Keeping your cholesterol in check also helps.
You can also take medicine, cut back on salt (less than 2300 milligrams of sodium each day), limit your alcohol and drug intake, consume healthy foods, and become more active. If you are a smoker, quit now — cigarette smoking can make the damage to your kidneys worse.
What are the symptoms of poorly functioning kidneys? It’s possible to lose as much as 90 percent of kidney function without experiencing any symptoms or problems. However, along with many other illnesses, poor kidney function symptoms that should be paid attention to and addressed immediately.
As reported on the Mayo Clinic Website, poor kidney function can include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, sleep problems, changes in urine output, decreased mental sharpness, muscle twitches and cramps, hiccups, swelling of feet and ankles, persistent itching, chest pain, high blood pressure and shortness of breath.
There are many conditions of the kidney that can produce some or many of these symptoms. Some of them are:
- Pyelonephritis (infection of kidney pelvis): Bacteria may infect the kidney, usually causing back pain and fever. A spread of bacteria from an untreated bladder infection is the most common cause of pyelonephritis.
- Kidney stones (nephrolithiasis): Minerals in urine form crystals (stones), which may grow large enough to block urine flow. It’s considered one of the most painful conditions. Most kidney stones pass on their own, but some are too large and need to be treated.
- Acute renal failure (kidney failure): A sudden worsening in kidney function. Dehydration, a blockage in the urinary tract, or kidney damage can cause acute renal failure, which may be reversible.
- Chronic renal failure: A permanent partial loss of kidney function. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes.
- End stage renal disease (ESRD): Complete loss of kidney function, usually due to progressive chronic kidney disease. People with ESRD require regular dialysis for survival.
- Kidney cancer: Renal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer affecting the kidney. Smoking is the most common cause of kidney cancer.
There are different tests that can be performed on the kidneys to isolate the concern. These may include:
- Kidney Ultrasound (a probe placed on skin to detect sound waves)
- Computed Tomography (CT scan- series of x-rays
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI scan-scanner using radio waves)
- Urine and blood tests
- Ureteroscopy (a flexible tube and camera placed in urethra)
- Kidney biopsy (a needle placed in back to remove kidney tissue)
Once you have found out whether or not you have impaired kidney function, you can start exploring treatments based on your diagnosis. Some treatments include antibiotics, nephrostomy, lithotripsy, hemodialysis (dialysis done three days per week), peritoneal dialysis (fluid place in the abdomen to help with the filtering process), and finally kidney transplant. These treatments should be utilized and explored to improve kidney function and maintenance.
If you are lucky enough to have symptomless and appropriately working kidney function, continue to do the right thing and take care of yourself using the preventive measures mentioned in this article.
Happy Kidney Awareness Month!
Brandi Phillips welcomes all reader comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandi Phillips is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.