Kidneys are essential to keeping us functioning properly. These fist-sized dynamic organs are among the hardest working in our bodies.
For starters, they filter blood, helping to get rid of waste, toxins and extra fluid through the production of urine. Kidneys further balance body chemistry by regulating salt, potassium and acid while maintaining good proteins and other things we need.
Beyond that, kidneys produce a hormone that helps control blood pressure, and they convert vitamin D that is ingested or absorbed into an active form needed to promote strong bones. If that wasn’t enough, kidneys produce a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body.
Kidneys are located on each side of the backbone, beneath the rib cage, with the left one sitting slightly higher than the right. They filter about 200 quarts of fluid every 24 hours. Each kidney has about one million tiny filters called nephrons. You can live with one kidney and, even then, it could still do its job if just a portion of it was functional.
It’s estimated that kidney disease affects as many as 37 million people, or 15% of the population nationwide, and 90% of those afflicted don’t know they have it. High blood pressure, smoking and diabetes increase the risk.
Don’t ignore symptoms of kidney disease
A lack of kidney function can spell big trouble for the body. If untreated, kidneys continue to deteriorate, and either dialysis – where blood is filtered by machine - or a transplant could be necessary. So, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms that include fluid retention, bubbles in urine, sluggishness, swelling, frequent or painful urination, and trouble controlling blood pressure.
Blood in the urine might be a sign of a tumor or kidney cancer and should prompt blood work and diagnostic scans.
Education is key. That’s why it’s important to see a nephrologist, a kidney specialist, if you have any signs or symptoms. A nephrologist focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the kidneys. We also can help patients manage the effects of kidney problems on the rest of the body. We can help prevent or delay the worst-case scenario that patients fear most: dialysis or transplant.
Drink water for healthy kidneys
To maintain kidney health, don’t smoke and try to maintain a healthy weight. Many patients with kidney disease also have diabetes, so glucose control is important.
Drink water! Anyone can get a kidney stone, so you want to avoid dehydration. Have at least a glass of water with breakfast, lunch and dinner and at least a glass in between meals.
A lower salt diet is preferable especially if you have high blood pressure. And NSAIDS like Motrin, Advil, or Aleve should be avoided as they have side effects that can affect kidney function. Make sure you share all your medications (including over-the-counter) and supplements with your doctor.
It’s easy – but not smart - to take our hard-working kidneys for granted.
Diane Triolo, MD, is dual board-certified in nephrology and internal medicine. She specializes in nephrology in her Teaneck practice. Dr. Triolo has participated in research studies on kidney transplant recipients and has been published in various medical journals. To make an in-person or telemedicine appointment, call 201-379-5650 or visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.