One in three Americans is at risk for developing kidney disease, and high
blood pressure and diabetes are two of the leading causes. Kidney disease
is often referred to as a “silent killer” because a person
can lose up to 90% of their kidney function before experiencing any outward symptoms.
Your kidneys are located on the left and right side of the spine, at the
lowest level of the rib cage. Weighing approximately 4-6 ounces each,
the human kidney is typically the size of an average fist. Regardless
of their size, kidneys play an essential role in your overall health and
are one of the most important organs in the human body. While most people
are born with two kidneys, it’s possible to live with just one.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, your kidneys filter all of
the blood circulating through your body every 30 minutes; filtering about
200 quarts of fluid every 24 hours. The main purpose of your kidneys is
to remove excess water and toxins from your blood. While your kidneys
regulate your body’s fluid levels, they also release hormones that
regulate blood pressure, activate vitamin D, balance blood minerals, and
release a hormone that directs the production of red blood cells.
Understanding your risk for developing kidney disease is very important;
if you’re at increased risk, you may be able to detect the disease
early. And like most health related issues, early detection allows more
time for treatment and an increased likelihood for better outcome. According
to the World Kidney Day Foundation, you are at higher risk of developing
kidney disease if you:
- Have high blood pressure
- Have diabetes
- Are overweight
- Have a family history of Kidney Disease
- Are over the age of 50
- Are of Asian, African, Hispanic, or Aboriginal origin
There are many causes of kidney disease.. Some kidney conditions are inherited
and other causes are congenital, meaning a person is born with an abnormality
that can affect the kidneys. Diabetes, high blood pressure, Glomerulonephritis
(inflammation of the kidneys), Polycystic Kidney Disease, kidney stones,
urinary tract infections, congenital disease, and drug interactions are
some of the most common causes of kidney damage, which over time, can
lead to kidney disease.
Because most people experience no symptoms until their kidney disease has
reached the advanced stages, it’s important to talk to your doctor
about your risk factors now, before you notice symptoms. According to
the National Kidney Foundation, your kidney function can be tested using
urine and blood samples. To learn more about these two simple tests,
If kidney disease reaches the advanced stages, symptoms often include:
- Swollen ankles, feet, hands, face, or abdomen
- Fatigue or weakness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased appetite
- Increased thirst
- Difficult or painful urination
- Increased need to urinate (especially at night)
- Blood in the urine or foamy urine
According to the Mayo Clinic, some types of kidney disease can be treated,
depending on the cause. However, chronic kidney disease often has no cure.
In general, treatment consists of measures to help control signs and symptoms,
reduce complications, and slow progression of the disease.
Ultimately, prevention is your first line of defense against developing
kidney disease. According to the
Cleveland Clinic, you can take the following steps to keep your kidneys healthy:
Drinking enough water (4-6 glasses a day) helps to maintain proper kidney
function. However, over-hydrating is not proven to help your kidneys do
their job any better.
Eat a healthy diet
Because most kidney diseases arise out of conditions like high blood pressure
and diabetes, eating a healthy diet can help prevent kidney disease by
preventing their initial cause. Preventing diabetes and high blood pressure
will help keep kidneys in good condition.
Along with a healthy diet, regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy
weight and prevent conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. If
you’re new to exercising, take it slow as you start and work up
to more intense activities. You don’t want to overexert yourself,
putting a strain on your kidneys.
Smoking damages blood vessels, which can also decreases blood flow in
the kidneys. This decrease blood flow keeps your kidneys from functioning
at their optimal levels. Also, let’s not forget that smoking can
lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of kidney cancer.
Be cautious of supplements and herbs
Overuse of vitamins, supplements, and some herbs can be harmful to your
kidneys. To make sure you’re using these items at their correct
dosage, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.
Take over-the-counter medications as directed
Common over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen can cause
kidney damage if taken too often over a long period of time. Using these
medications for occasional pain is fine for an individual with healthy
kidneys. However, if you’re taking these medications for chronic
pain or arthritis, talk to your doctor. Monitoring kidney function or
finding alternative ways or managing pain may be suggested.
Know your risk and get screened
If you have a condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes, talk
to your doctor about performing a kidney function test as part of your
Ultimately, your kidney health is often dependent on your overall health.
The most important thing that you can do for your kidneys is to take care
of your body, which reduces your chances of developing a condition that
could put a strain on your kidneys in the future.
To learn more about your kidneys, kidney disease, prevention, and so much
more, visit the National Kidney Foundation website at