Woman holding a model of kidney function.
March 28, 2016 | by The Polyclinic

How often do you consider your kidneys? Your body’s own fluid treatment plant filters your entire body’s blood supply approximately 400 times per day. Not bad for two little organs each no bigger than your cell phone!

March is National Kidney Month, but it's important to consider your kidneys every day of the year. If ever there were a symbiotic set of organs in your body, kidneys are it: Kidneys will take care of you so long as you take care of them.

What are kidneys?

Your kidneys are a pair of fist-sized organs containing millions of filtering blood vessels that manage the fluid in your body. Each day, your kidneys filter about 200 quarts of fluid which are processed and returned back to your bloodstream according to your body’s needs. In that same process, the kidneys extract waste fluid in the form of urine, which eventually leaves your body through the bladder.

Not only that, but your kidneys also release hormones that regulate blood pressure and control calcium metabolism, they control the production of red blood cells (which carry oxygen throughout your body), and they produce vitamin D which contributes to strong bones.

Your kidneys are located on either side of your spine, right below your lowest rib bone. The work they do impacts every other organ in your body, so taking care of your kidneys is paramount.

Why is kidney health so important?

Imagine frequent urinary tract infections or kidney stones, or retaining fluid and having to urinate frequently, or having pain during urination. These are all possible indications of declining kidney function. It’s important to see your physician if you have symptoms like these. While nearly all are treatable, these symptoms can be an early warning sign of possible kidney disease.

It’s important to detect kidney disease early; not only does the work of kidneys affect other organs in your body, but once damaged, kidneys are permanently compromised. If kidney disease should lead to kidney failure, the critical filtering they do can only be replaced by artificial dialysis or a complete kidney transplant.

What’s the difference between chronic kidney disease and kidney failure?

Chronic kidney disease is any condition which compromises your kidneys’ ability to function optimally. Compromised kidneys will not filter waste efficiently, and this waste can build up in your blood, leading to high blood pressure, low blood count (anemia), nerve damage, and greater risk of heart and blood vessel disease. It can happen slowly over time, and often with no obvious signs. Early detection by blood tests is key if you think you might be at risk.

Kidney failure is the acute progression of chronic kidney disease. Those patients who have suffered kidney failure require dialysis or a kidney transplant to restore kidney function.

What increases your risk for kidney disease?

Age and a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure are the leading risk factors for chronic kidney disease. Other factors are obesity, certain drug use (prescription and illicit), and a family history of the disease.

How can I take care of my kidneys?

If you think you may be at risk for chronic kidney disease, get tested to rule it out. Your physician can help you determine your options.

If you are confirmed at risk, take steps to slow down the progression of the disease:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Quit smoking (the number one preventable cause of premature death in the U.S.)
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women and no more than 2 per day for men
  • Eat plant protein and limit foods with animal protein
  • Reduce salt in your diet (a cause of high blood pressure which further damages kidneys)
  • Incorporate exercise for fitness and stress relief

Simply knowing what your kidneys do for you empowers you to take better care of them, and ultimately, the rest of you too.

Please discuss any kidney related issues with your primary care physician.