7 tips to keep your kidneys healthy
The kidneys are two swimming pool shaped structures just in front of the back muscles and partly under the rib cage. Their main job is to filter impurities out of the blood. Nephrologist Keith Superdock, MD, explained why you want to keep your kidneys healthy, especially if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
“These amazing organs receive approximately one-fourth of the blood coming out of the heart with every heartbeat,” said Dr. Superdock.
If kidney function weakens, impurity levels will accumulate in the bloodstream and eventually make people feel unwell. Symptoms can include:
- Lack of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Sleep problems
Once the concentration of impurities in the blood exceeds a certain point, dialysis or kidney transplantation is needed to remove these impurities from the bloodstream and restore health.
“Thankfully, most of us are born with 10 times as much kidney function as we need to stay well,” said Dr. Superdock. “Often, kidney disease can be diagnosed and treated prior to the need for transplantation or dialysis.”
What are risk factors for kidney disease?
In the United States, the most common risk factors for kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. The more poorly controlled an individual’s diabetes or high blood pressure, the more likely their kidney function will deteriorate.
Other risk factors include:
- Family history. Any individual with a parent, sibling or child with kidney disease should be more concerned regarding their own kidney health.
- NSAID use. Excessive use of medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil, etc.) or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, etc.) can cause kidney damage.
- Dehydration. A lack of fluid intake can lead to kidney injury.
- Smoking. It is well known that smoking is associated with worsening kidney function.
What are the signs and symptoms of kidney disease?
- Abnormal blood test. The most common sign of kidney disease is an abnormal blood test – creatinine – that is routinely obtained with screening blood work. Creatinine accumulates in the blood stream as the filtering ability of the kidneys deteriorate. This is a marker of the overall level of filtering ability of the kidneys.
- High blood pressure. Kidney disease may be associated with high blood pressure which can result in frequent headaches, shortness of breath with exertion, blurry vision, chest tightness or pain, or a pounding sensation in your neck or ears.
- Urine changes. Abnormalities in urine such as blood in the urine, cola or tea colored urine, or unusual foaminess in the urine due to passage of excessive protein in the urine (particularly with the first passage of urine in the morning) may also be seen in kidney disease.
Any of these signs or symptoms should prompt a visit to your physician for appropriate laboratory studies. If your lab results confirm that your kidneys are unhealthy, your primary care physician may refer you to a kidney specialist or nephrologist for further evaluation and treatment.
How can you prevent kidney disease?
Dr. Superdock said the most practical way to prevent kidney disease is to live a generally healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips.
- Avoid overeating as this can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure which may in turn damage your kidneys.
- If you know you have high blood pressure, avoid salt intake as much as possible and moderate alcohol consumption.
- It is extremely important to be compliant with all your medications to treat diabetes and high blood pressure as this may slow the decline in your kidney function.
- Avoid excessive use of non-steroidal pain medication.
- Stay well hydrated. The best gauge of adequate hydration is that your urine should appear pale yellow and not too dark.
- If you are a smoker, you should work with your primary care physician on a strategy to discontinue this harmful habit.
- Even if you are unaware of having any health problems, it is wise to undergo regular checkups and lab tests to check your kidney function.
It is generally recommended that healthy adults should see a primary care physician annually starting at the age of 50 and perhaps every two to three years under the age of 50. In patients with pre-existing high blood pressure or diabetes, your primary care physician will want to see you more frequently and will likely monitor blood tests and/or urine studies. These studies will help to assess your kidney health before advanced deterioration occurs.
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