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Why Kidney Health is Vital to Your Overall Well-Being


In ancient times the kidneys were viewed as the seat of feelings, conscience, and yearnings and the source of morality and ethical activity. The kidneys were associated with the innermost parts of a person’s personality and well-being. While we know now that kidneys have no direct role in shaping our ethics, emotions and personality, these two bean-shaped organs are nonetheless vital to our well-being.

The kidney is a remarkably intricate organ that acts as the filter system of the body. Just as important, your kidneys also work to keep the whole body in a state of chemical balance. The kidneys regulate the substances, helpful and harmful, that float around in the body and keeps them within very tight parameters so the body can function as a well-oiled machine. This is called renal function.

You cannot live without proper renal function, even if the kidneys are assisted artificially. Life would not continue without the many functions these organs perform. 

The kidney is the major player in the regulation of your blood pressure, and the make-up of the blood. Maintaining many hormones that are vital to our very existence, the kidneys even produce hormones that tell bones when to make more blood cells.

Kidneys Are Sensitive to Their Environment

Humans are a complex and integrated creation and the kidneys work with the rest of your organs to help you live a healthy life. Unfortunately, when one organ or system fails to work properly, others can begin to fail as a result.

Whether they begin the process of failure, or are responding to other organ failures, when the kidneys falter, many life-altering issues can result.

Like any intricate machine, the kidney is highly sensitive to its environment. Every time our heart beats, the kidneys get about 20 percent of the blood that is pumped. If the kidneys do not receive enough blood, they will start to deteriorate.

Many acute illnesses, which are illnesses or medical conditions with severe or sudden onset, can cause blood flow to fall. So it’s very common to have acute kidney injury whenever we get acutely ill.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease affects about 15 percent of the human population. About 450,000 people in the United States require renal replacement therapy to live, and 100,000 people have been given a new chance at life with a kidney transplant.

These people usually receive a referral to a nephrologist after their kidneys have shown significant signs of decline or there are worrisome signs like protein or blood in the urine, says nephrologist Aaron Young, DO, who specializes in Nephrology and Critical Care Medicine at UH Samaritan in Ashland.

In America, the No.1 cause of chronic kidney disease is diabetes mellitus. There are many complex reasons, and some reasons that are not completely understood, for the kidneys to suffer from diabetes. The high glucose itself can hurt the kidneys and cause thickening and damage. Diabetes also can cause the kidney to filtrate too much and overwork itself, causing destructive enzymes to proliferate.

We know for sure that the better diabetes is controlled, the better chance we have to preserve kidney function. If the diabetes is not controlled, protein will soon be seen spilling into the urine.

Hypertension and Kidney Health

Hypertension – which is another name for high blood pressure – is the No. 2 cause of chronic kidney disease in the United States. In fact, 80 percent to 85 percent of people with chronic kidney disease have hypertension.

Chronic kidney disease can cause hypertension; likewise, hypertension can cause chronic kidney disease. Regardless of which came first, it’s vital to have blood pressure well-controlled and to take medications that help “off-load” pressure on the kidney.

Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Each person may have different symptoms of kidney disease. Here are the most common:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Itchiness all over the body
  • Blood in the urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Puffiness around the eyes, swelling of hands and feet
  • Darkened skin
  • Muscle cramps or pain the small of the back just below the ribs that is not aggravated by movement
  • High blood pressure

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you have concerns.

Treating Kidney Disease

A variety of kidney disease treatment options are available to control chronic kidney disease symptoms and complications from the disease, including medications to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Treat anemia
  • Relieve swelling
  • Protect your bones

Your kidney doctor also may recommend a lower protein diet to minimize waste products in your blood. Regular follow-up kidney tests may be necessary to see if your disease remains stable or is progressing.

“I think I can confidently say that we all want to live a healthy life without having to worry about our kidneys failing, Dr. Young says. “I believe the most important part of my job is to try to prevent further damage to the kidneys and try to help people live as long as possible, as naturally as possible.”

Steven Baldridge, RN, is a staff educator at University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.