National Kidney Month
National Kidney Month
Your kidneys work hard - all day, every day - to keep you healthy. March is National Kidney Month, and an excellent time to learn more about these little organs and the big jobs that they do.
Kidneys: The Basics
Each of your kidneys, you have two, is about the size of a computer mouse. They filter all the blood in your body approximately every 30 minutes. During that time, wastes, toxins, and excess fluids are removed from your blood to prevent harmful buildup of those substances in your body.
As if that were not enough, your kidneys also help control blood pressure, stimulate production of red blood cells, keep your bones healthy and strong, and regulate blood chemicals.
What if My Kidneys Stop Working Properly?
You may experience a rapid decline in kidney function in which your kidneys do not work as well to filter, or clean, your blood. This may be a result of an acute illness or injury, and it is usually preventable or reversible with treatment. A rapid decline of kidney function of this type is known as acute kidney injury.
It is also possible for your kidneys to become damaged over time. If this happens, they may not filter, or clean, your blood as well as healthy kidneys. As a result, wastes, toxins, and extra fluid can build up in your body and cause other health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. This type of long-term illness is known as chronic kidney disease.
Chronic Kidney Disease
When your kidneys are not working as they should to clean your blood, numerous health issues may occur as a result, in addition to those listed above. These may include:
- Anemia or low number of red blood cells
- Increased occurrence of infections
- Low calcium levels, high potassium levels, and high phosphorous levels in the blood
- Loss of appetite
- Depression or lower quality of life
Chronic kidney disease can get worse over time and progress to kidney failure, when a kidney transplant or dialysis may be required to keep you healthy. Dialysis is a procedure in which your blood is regularly filtered through a machine to remove wastes, toxins, and fluid. Essentially, the machine is taking over the role of your kidneys.
Am I at Risk for Chronic Kidney Disease?
Risk factors for chronic kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, family history of chronic kidney disease, and obesity. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent the development of chronic kidney disease and lower your risk of kidney failure. Read on for some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep your kidneys happy and healthy:
- Keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg (or the target your doctor establishes for you).
- If you have diabetes, stay in your target blood sugar range as much as possible.
- Get active - physical activity helps control blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Get tested for chronic kidney disease regularly if you are at risk.
- If you have chronic kidney disease, meet with a dietician to create a kidney-healthy eating plan.
- Take medication as instructed, and ask your doctor about blood pressure medicines called angiotensin-converting enzyme ("ACE") inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers, which may protect your kidneys in addition to lowering blood pressure.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking can worsen kidney disease and interfere with medication that controls blood pressure.
- Include a kidney doctor (nephrologist) on your health care team.