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In Depth: Pyramids

Of any other part of the urinary system, the kidneys are more likely to have problems because of the amount of work they put in on a regular basis as well as the many contaminants they come across.

Kidney conditions, such as infections with inflammation, are often temporary and result in complete recovery. Some conditions include:

  • Acute renal failure: Kidneys may sometimes have a sudden decrease in function due to medical emergencies, such as heart failure or liver disease, or high levels of toxins in the blood. As these can cause imbalances in the blood, it is important to treat them as they might complicate other illnesses.
  • Chronic renal failure: This type of kidney failure involves gradual, irreversible decrease of kidney function from the destruction of nephrons. This results in higher levels of nitrogen in the blood, which causes a condition known as uremia, which can cause renal failure.
  • Kidney stones: Infections and dehydration can cause calcium salts and uric acid to form hard deposits in the renal pelvis or in the bladder. Unfortunately, medication that would dissolve the stones would also damage the kidney, so the stones usually have to be passed manually through the urinary system, which is painful. Surgery may be needed for larger stones.
  • Pyelonephritis: Bacterial infection causes inflammation in the kidney, namely the renal pelvis. It is most common in pregnant woman and in men with an enlarged prostate as it is related to partial obstruction of urine flow. Repeated infection can increase the seriousness of the disease, which can cause renal failure and other problems.
  • Acute glomerulonephritis: This is the most common type of kidney disease. It’s most often seen in children a few weeks after a strep throat infection. Antibodies that form in response to the virus can damage the kidney’s filtration function. In children, damage is usually temporary. In adults, the disease more often leads to chronic renal failure.
  • Hydronephrosis: Another infection-related condition, this concerns accumulated fluid in the renal pelvis due to obstruction.  If the obstruction isn’t removed quickly, permanent damage is likely.
  • Polycystic kidney disease: This condition involves fluid-filled sacs that develop in the kidneys and destroy important tissue through pressure. It is a hereditary disease. 
  • Renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer): Cancer cells that develop in one or more kidneys must be removed surgically as radiation and chemotherapy are generally ineffective. Some types of hormone therapy have proven effective in reducing tumor size.

Some chronic conditions require extensive medical treatments that can alter a person’s life. For serious kidney problems, there are two common treatments:

  • Dialysis: This type of treatment involves a patient’s blood being pumped through a machine to filter out waste and excess water, mimicking the way a healthy kidney would function.
  • Kidney transplantation: This is often the final option for those with chronic kidney conditions. A healthy human can function on one kidney alone, so live donors are often used with great success. The greatest success occurs when the donor and recipient are related. 

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