March is National Kidney Month and we are more than excited to celebrate the role your kidneys play in helping you maintain your health. Many individuals are aware that their kidneys help remove waste. More importantly though, these vital organs perform several other functions – each of which is essential. Knowing these roles can help you recognize symptoms in cases where your kidneys may not be performing their regular functions. You’ll be better prepared to reach out for help from a nephrologist or other medical specialists who can provide you with the support you need.
What Do Your Kidneys Do?
Unlike many other essential organs, such as the heart or brain, your kidney comes in pairs. With a shape similar to kidney beans, these organs are located below the rib cage with one kidney on each side. The hormones produced by the kidneys are not only vital to the production of red blood cells, but also active vitamin D which helps the body maintain strong bones. Each kidney contains approximately one million nephrons that filter water and other excess substances out of the blood. Fluid regulation and excess water removal is an essential function of the kidneys and aids in regulating blood pressure. Managing blood sugar and blood pressure can help keep kidneys healthy.
Below are some of the ways your kidney helps you maintain healthy body functions:
- Removal of waste from the blood
The kidneys act as essential filters, removing waste products, including uric acid, urea, and creatinine from the blood. These waste products are excreted from the body through your urine.
- Regulation of fluid levels
Your body is made up of about 60% fluids. Fluids are important since they help to facilitate essential processes in the body including carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, lubricating joints and eyes, and preventing infection. The kidneys help to regulate the amount of fluid in the body by filtering and removing excess water and salts.
- Regulation of electrolyte balance
A proper balance of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, in the body helps your cells to perform chemical reactions through electrical charges. The kidneys maintain the proper level of electrolytes by continually filtering the blood.
- Regulation of acid-base balance
Humans function normally within specific blood pH values. The kidneys help regulate the pH of the blood by removing excess acid or base. If the pH of blood becomes too alkaline or too acidic, the body can be threatened and more prone to acidosis (too acidic) and alkalosis (too alkaline).
- Production of hormones which impact red blood cells
The kidneys produce hormones, such as erythropoietin and renin. These hormones help to regulate the production of red blood cells. They also regulate blood pressure. Not surprisingly, doctors have noted that high blood pressure can cause damage to the kidneys, leading to the serious chronic condition called kidney disease.
Problems that Kidney Disease Can Cause
In some cases, the kidneys may not function as they should. These malfunctions could lead to kidney disease. Having kidney disease means that the kidneys not only aren’t functioning properly, but are damaged and unable to filter blood effectively.
Kidney disease can also increase your risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease. Moreover, most people who have kidney disease don’t notice symptoms as these problems tend to happen slowly over time. Progressed stages of kidney disease can eventually lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant. That’s why early detection is critical in preventing late stage chronic kidney disease.
Are You at Risk for Kidney Disease?
Individuals who have diabetes or hypertension, i.e. high blood pressure, are at a greater risk for developing kidney disease. These two conditions are responsible for two-thirds of chronic kidney disease cases according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Other risk factors for kidney disease include having a family history of kidney failure, being older, and/or being a part of a population group that has a high rate of diabetes or hypertension. These groups include African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians.
When to See a Doctor
Like many chronic conditions, kidney disease often does not show obvious signs until the disease has progressed to advanced stages. That’s why early detection and treatment of chronic kidney disease is essential.
Some symptoms that may indicate that your kidneys may not be functioning effectively include low energy, poor appetite, trouble concentrating, muscle cramping at night, swollen feet or ankles and puffy eyes. Individuals with kidney disease may also need to urinate more often, especially at night. Should you experience these symptoms, contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms, pre-existing conditions and risks. Remember that your health matters and we are more than happy to support you as you seek ways to improve kidney function as well as overall health.
Schedule an appointment by contacting Premier’s Internal Medicine division. Kidney specialists are available to assist at office locations in Poughkeepsie, Fishkill, and New Windsor.