Kidneys: What do they do and How to keep them healthy

Posted on: June 5, 2015

Kidneys: Your Built-in Detox System

By Dr. Martin Saltzman

Your kidneys are easy to ignore. They purr away filtering your blood, eliminating toxins and impurities, and they rarely complain. However, you don’t want to take these vital Kidneyorgans for granted. When a kidney infection or chronic disease progresses too far, your kidneys can sustain permanent damage. Should something go wrong with your kidneys, your life can change dramatically for the worse. In fact, 90,000 Americans die each year from kidney disease.

Among the many duties of these unassuming organs, topmost is removing waste from your bloodstream for elimination from the body. Each day they filter up to 150 quarts of blood, producing about one to two quarts of urine. They also help maintain the balance of water and electrolytes like sodium and potassium in your body. On top of that important work, the kidneys also generate hormones that help regulate blood pressure and make red blood cells.

Kidneys accomplish this valuable work through the use of roughly a million filtering units per kidney known as nephrons. This is why kidney specialists are known as nephrologists, and the field of kidney medicine is called nephrology. A number of systemic, or underlying, conditions such as diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease can damage nephrons. A family history of kidney disease, autoimmune diseases – which can cause nephritis or vasculitis – allergic reactions to drugs and kidney stones can also damage your kidneys and place them at higher risk of failure. Behaviors that can damage kidneys include smoking or relying too much on over-the-counter NSAID pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen. When kidneys begin to fail, waste products build up in the body leading to very serious health issues.

Unfortunately, early kidney disease is difficult to spot. There are rarely obvious symptoms, so it’s important to check with your primary care physician if you notice any small changes such as discoloration of—or a decrease in—urine, or any swelling that may be due to the retention of fluids. If you’re under doctor’s orders to take large doses of NSAIDs, your kidney function should be closely monitored. When kidney disease is suspected, your primary care physician will refer you to a nephrologist for consultation and evaluation. A thorough examination, blood tests, imaging studies, and occasionally a biopsy are tools used to help uncover the underlying cause, which will guide treatment. It is also necessary to determine the stage of kidney disease if it is present.

Many people with CKD (chronic kidney disease) remain stable or progress slowly if their underlying condition is caught early enough and treated. However, in some instances kidney disease does progress, for those cases, renal replacement therapy (RRT) is available in the form of dialysis (hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis) or a transplant.

Preventing Kidney Disease
You can avoid trouble by making sure you control high blood pressure, or if you have diabetes, managing your blood sugar by being careful to take your medications. People at elevated risk due to chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes should get blood tests and urine tests to screen for early kidney disease. Have a chat with your doctor about the health of your kidneys and whether it makes sense to have them tested. This organ is critical for life. You won’t regret it, especially if you’re able to catch any kidney damage early.

If you have chronic kidney disease, I strongly urge you to visit www.davita.com and find a FREE Kidney Smart® Class near you.

Be Kind to your Kidney’s
Maintaining a healthy weight, working with a renal dietitian and following a renal diet of kidney-friendly foods is vital for people with kidney disease. Try adding some of these to your diet each day and be sure to keep it colorful.*
Fruits & Vegetables
Apples
Blackberries
Blueberries
Cranberries
Garlic
Plums
Raspberries
Red bell peppers
Red cabbage
Red leaf lettuce
Strawberries
Herbs & Spices
Cinnamon
Curry powder
Oregano
Pepper
Turmeric
*Source: www.davita.com

Editor’s Note: Martin Saltzman, MD is Chief of the Division of Nephrology at Northern Westchester Hospital.