America is inundated with health news. With well-founded worries about cancer, heart disease and diabetes, we often forget about the little things—like our kidneys.
The fact is that nearly 8 million Americans have seriously reduced kidney function. The National Kidney Foundation deemed March as Kidney Month, so take this opportunity to learn a bit more about these organs and how to keep them functioning properly.
Each person has two of the bean-shaped vital organs, located near the middle of the back, just below the rib cage. Kidneys can be compared to “trash collectors” that sift out waste products and extra urine from your blood. The wastes in your blood come from the normal breakdown of active muscle and from the food you eat. After your body has taken what it needs from the food, waste is sent to the blood. If your kidneys did not remove these wastes, the wastes would build up in the blood and damage your body.
The actual filtering occurs in tiny units inside your kidneys called nephrons. Most kidney diseases attack these nephrons, causing them to lose their filtering capacity. Damage to the nephrons may happen quickly, often as the result of injury or poisoning. But, most kidney diseases destroy the nephrons slowly or silently. The two most common causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. If your family has a history of any kind of kidney problems, you may be at risk for kidney disease.
Early stages of kidney disease may not cause any symptoms at all. The first signs of sickness tend to be general, such as frequent headaches or feeling tired or itchy all over your body. As kidney disease worsens, you may feel the need to urinate more often or less often. Some people also lose their appetites and experience nausea or vomiting. Other symptoms may include swelling or numbness in the hands or feet, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, darkening skin and muscle cramps.
If you feel you might be at risk for kidney disease, you could improve your kidney function with these tips:
If you have diabetes, watch your blood sugar closely and be sure to consult your doctor on how to control the condition. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and talk with your doctor about ways to keep it under control.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about the effects your diet may have on your kidney function. Also talk with your doctor about the effects of protein, cholesterol, sodium and potassium.
If you notice a sharp stabbing pain in your side, back or abdomen, you may have kidney stones. See a doctor immediately. Try to drink lots of water while you’re waiting to see the doctor. It will help flush out the stones from your system. If you’ve had kidney stones before, or if they run in your family, be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water per day and more in hot weather.
Don’t drink alcohol and take over-the-counter painkillers at the same time. This combination can bring on kidney failure.
It’s important to remember that your kidneys are vital organs that keep your blood clean and chemically balanced. If you have concerns about kidney function, be sure to talk with your doctor.