In a way, kidneys are the custodian of the human body. The two fist-sized,
bean-shaped organs are located under the ribs, with one on each side of
the spine. Using their tiny nephrons--each kidney has about a million
of them--the kidneys filter waste and excess fluid from the body via urine.
"By doing this, the kidneys keep your blood healthy," says
Khadija Mayet, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group. "And that's a big job, as the kidneys run through about 150
to 200 quarts of blood on a daily basis.
But the kidneys do more than just eliminate waste from the body. Kidneys
also keep electrolytes such as potassium and sodium balanced; make hormones
that help with blood pressure function and the creation of red blood cells;
and promote bone health by making a form of vitamin D.
Because kidneys have several important functions in the body, it's
wise to keep them healthy. "Kidneys are susceptible to cancer, cysts
or infections, such as urinary tract infections that may spread to the
kidneys," says Dr. Mayet. "And many people are familiar with
kidney stones and the intense pain they can cause. Stones have many potential
causes, including congenital issues, problems caused by diet or type of
medication, or infections. Smaller kidney stones can eventually be expelled
from the body during urination, but larger ones may need to be broken
down with the help of surgery, sound waves or a ureteroscope so they can
be passed." If you see blood in your urine, feel pain in your lower
back, have problems urinating or feel feverish or nauseous, you may want
to talk with your doctor about a possible kidney problem.
There is also chronic kidney disease, which can impair how the kidneys
work. "You can be at risk for chronic kidney disease if you have
a family history of it, or if you have diabetes or high blood pressure,"
Dr. Mayet says. "Inflammation can also be a contributor to kidney
disease, as can heavy drug use, whether it's health medication or
illegal substances. If you are age 60 or older, that can be a factor as
If you are in one of the risk groups, blood or urine tests can be conducted
to determine if you have chronic kidney disease. Symptoms can include
blood or protein in the urine, frequent and painful urination, bodily
swelling or puffiness or a rise in blood pressure.
Chronic kidney disease may eventually result in a kidney transplant or
dialysis, which rids the body of waste when the kidneys can no longer
do the job. While chronic kidney disease can impact both kidneys, people
can live with only one, such as a person who gets a transplanted kidney.
"There are steps you can take to ensure the health of your kidneys,"
Dr. Mayet says. "If you are diabetic or have high blood pressure,
monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure and keep them at healthy levels,
and make sure you eat a wholesome, low-sodium diet that prevents cholesterol
buildup in the heart. Exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are
also keys to kidney health, and avoid drinking and smoking. As a bonus,
these measures benefit your overall health, so your kidneys will be part
of a body that's functioning at its best."
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