Your kidneys might be small but they are mighty when it comes to the number of functions they carry out on a daily basis.
In this article, we will cover kidney function, why it’s important to be aware of family history and some interesting kidney facts.
In particular, we want to focus on kidney disease, which is also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is a condition that doesn't receive much press and is often misunderstood due to the fact that the symptoms are so subtle.
In most cases, kidney disease is known as chronic kidney disease because of the very slow and chronic nature of the signs and symptoms.
Women are more likely to develop kidney disease than men.
Those who live with diabetes or high blood pressure have a significantly higher likelihood of suffering with kidney disease.
- Kidney Facts: Where Are Your Kidneys?
- Kidney Facts: What Do Your Kidneys Do?
- Kidney Facts: What Are The Causes Of Kidney Disease?
- Kidney Facts: What Are The Symptoms Of Kidney Disease?
- Kidney Facts: What Are The Risk Factors Associated With Kidney Disease?
- Kidney Facts: What Is The Treatment For Kidney Disease?
- How To Test Your Kidney Function
Kidney Facts: Where Are Your Kidneys?
Let's start by talking about where the kidneys are to get a sense of how they fit into the urinary system. Your kidneys sit in the upper abdominal area, just below the ribs. The kidneys are two bean shaped glands, your left and right kidney are pressed against the back muscle.
Both kidney glands are about the size of a clenched fist. The kidneys make up part of the urinary/renal system alongside the ureters and bladder.
Urine flows from the kidneys to the bladder through two thin tubes called the ureters, one of which exists on each side of the bladder. Your bladder stores urine following the filtration processes of the kidneys.
The kidneys produce urine by filtering waste and extra water from the blood.
Kidney Facts: What Do Your Kidneys Do?
You might think that the kidneys are simply in charge of functions related to urination, but there's more! The kidneys play a vital role in a number of functions.
The reason that people who are living with kidney disease often don't realize is because the kidneys are always working overtime to ensure that they are carrying out their functions quickly and efficiently. You can donate one kidney and still be perfectly healthy in most cases.
You may be living with kidney damage however the glands will continue to do enough work to keep you feeling well until further down the line, when symptoms become apparent.
For the majority of people, the only way to know if they have kidney disease is to take a kidney function test.
So, What Do Your Kidneys Do?
Removes waste products from the blood
After the body uses food for energy and self-repair, waste is sent to the blood to be processed by the kidneys. The most common by-products of the metabolism include urea and creatinine. The kidneys filter half a cup of blood per minute.
To simplify the above, waste and toxins enter the kidneys and the kidneys then excrete vitamins, amino acids, glucose and hormones back into the bloodstream.
Balances the body's water-salt balance
Your kidneys maintain a healthy balance of water, salts and minerals such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium in the blood. Each and every cell in the body is surrounded by a fluid called extracellular fluid that needs to be stable for cells to carry out their functions correctly.
The salt-water balance is maintained by a number of hormones and signals that are sent to the brain to stimulate a feeling of thirst in humans.
Excess salts and minerals are excreted through a concentrated and smaller volume of urine. During periods of dehydration, the body also soaks up as much water as it can from surrounding tissues to maintain a balance in extracellular fluids. At this point, humans are compelled to drink more water and this cycle will ultimately bring back a healthy salt-water balance.
Controls the production of red blood cells
The kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin which is released in response to a decreasing number of red blood cells. Erythropoietin acts on bone marrow to increase the production of red blood cells through heightening the capacity of oxygen to carry red blood cells in the blood.
Regulates blood pressure
The kidneys excrete a hormone called renin which is used to maintain healthy blood pressure. Renin works to maintain normal blood pressure by constricting blood vessels when the kidneys receive a signal that blood pressure is dropping. This leads to an increase in blood pressure.
If the body is producing too much renin, this can lead to high blood pressure. Conversely, if the you have high blood pressure, you are more likely to live with kidney disease.
For more insight into the functions of the kidney, read "Should You Take A Kidney Function Test?"
Kidney Facts: What Are The Causes Of Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease or CKD is described as a condition in which your kidneys cannot filter the blood the way they should.
This prevents your kidneys from filtering wastes and excess fluids from your blood, which are then normally excreted in your urine. At an advanced stage of kidney disease, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and wastes can build up in your body. High levels of urea, creatinine and a low eGFR (Glomerular filtration rate) can indicate acute or chronic kidney disease.
As mentioned, kidney disease is often known as CKD because developing kidney disease is such a slow and subtle process.
Some of the most common causes of kidney disease include:
- High blood pressure
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Acute kidney disease
- Kidney stones
- Kidney infections
- Abusing anabolic steroids
- Following a high protein diet
Kidney Facts: What Are The Symptoms Of Kidney Disease?
It is very unlikely that you will experience any symptoms of kidney disease until the condition has advanced, so it is recommended that those who have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history begin screening from the age of 18.
For those who have a less considerable risk of kidney disease, it is recommended that you evaluate your risk factors with your physician to come up with a comprehensive screening plan.
If you do begin to experience symptoms, they will most likely become apparent further down the line of your condition. Symptoms may include:
- Feeling tired all the time
- Changes in urination (in how often you urinate and the volume of urine produced)
- Irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath
- Fluid retention
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
- Chest pain
Kidney Facts: What Are The Risk Factors Associated With Kidney Disease?
Risk factors that may increase your likelihood of kidney disease include:
If you are over the age of 60, you are at an increased risk of developing kidney disease. As we age, it is normal to experience changes in regular organ function.
According to a study carried out by John Hopkins University, more than 50% of those over the age of 75 live with kidney disease.
African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans are more likely to develop kidney disease than other races and ethnicities. It is believed that the reasoning behind this fact is that these groups have a higher prevalence rate of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Family history plays a role in determining what health barriers you might come across as you age.
If one family member has had kidney disease, it is recommended that you begin the screening process for kidney disease starting at the age of 18.
A family history in this instance would refer to a blood relative who has had or has kidney disease or a family member who has had conditions related to kidney disease including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney infections, kidney stones or prostate problems.