Your kidneys are fist-sized organs located at the bottom of your rib cage, on both sides of your spine. They perform several functions. Most importantly, they filter waste products, excess water, and other impurities from your blood. These waste products are stored in your bladder and later expelled through urine.
In addition, your kidneys regulate pH, salt, and potassium levels in your body. They also produce hormones that regulate blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells. Your kidneys are also responsible for activating a form of vitamin D that helps your body absorb calcium for building bones and regulating muscle function.
Maintaining kidney health is important to your overall health and general well-being. By keeping your kidneys healthy, your body will filter and expel waste properly and produce hormones to help your body function properly.
When Things Go Wrong
A little more than 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 20 shows evidence of kidney disease. Some forms of kidney disease are progressive, meaning the disease gets worse over time. When your kidneys can no longer remove waste from blood, they fail. Waste buildup in your body can cause serious problems, and can lead to death. To remedy this, your blood would have to be filtered artificially through dialysis, or you would need a kidney transplant.
Types of Kidney Disease
Chronic Kidney Disease
The most common form of kidney disease is chronic kidney disease. A major cause of chronic kidney disease is high blood pressure. Because your kidneys are constantly processing your body's blood, they are exposed to about 20 percent of your total volume of blood every minute.
High blood pressure is dangerous for your kidneys because it can lead to increased pressure on the glomeruli, the functional units of your kidney. In time, this high pressure compromises the filtering apparatus of your kidneys and their functioning declines.
Eventually, kidney function will deteriorate to the point where they can no longer properly perform their job, and you will have to go on dialysis. Dialysis filters fluid and wastes out of your blood, but it is not a long-term solution. Eventually, you may need a kidney transplant, but it depends on your particular circumstance.
Diabetes is another major cause of chronic kidney disease. Over time, uncontrolled blood sugar levels will damage the functional units of your kidney, also leading to kidney failure.
Another common kidney problem is kidney stones. Minerals and other substances in your blood may crystallize in the kidneys, forming solid particles, or stones, that usually pass out of your body in urine. Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful, but rarely causes significant problems.
Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli, microscopic structures inside your kidneys that perform the filtration of blood. Glomerulonephritis can be caused by infections, drugs, congenital abnormalities, and autoimmune diseases. This condition may get better on its own or require immunosuppressive medications.
Polycystic Kidney Disease
Individual kidney cysts are fairly common and usually harmless, but polycystic kidney disease is a separate, more serious condition. Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes many cysts, round sacs of fluid, to grow inside and on the surfaces of your kidneys, interfering with kidney function.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are bacterial infections of any of the parts of your urinary system. Infections in the bladder and urethra are most common. They are generally easily treatable and have few, if any, long-term consequences. However, if left untreated, these infections can spread to the kidneys and lead to kidney failure.
What You Can Do to Improve Kidney Health
Maintaining an active, health-conscious lifestyle is the best thing you can do to ensure your kidneys stay healthy. This includes:
- staying fit and active
- exercising regularly
- eating healthy foods
- monitoring your blood pressure
- monitoring your blood sugar levels
- drinking plenty of fluids