As we continue exploring the organs that make up our body, we’re going to give you the 4-1-1 on your bean shaped organs – the kidneys.

Function, Location and Purpose

Did you know you have not one, but two kidneys within your body? This pair of organs works to remove waste and excess water from your blood and keep water, salt and mineral levels balanced within your body. Kidneys also produce hormones that increase red blood cell production, which is why people with kidney disease many times have anemia, as well as hormones responsible for blood pressure control.

The pair of bean-shaped organs are four to five inches in length and sit on either side of your spine, below your ribs and behind your stomach. While we are born with two, it is possible to live a perfectly normal life with just one kidney, which is why it is possible to donate one of your kidneys to someone with kidney failure. Most people are born with two kidneys, but occasionally, someone may have only one kidney since birth and find out later in life. Kidney transplants from both living and deceased donors are increasingly common and can ensure years of healthy living for those with kidney diseases.

Kidney Diseases and Treatments

There are two main types of kidney disease: short-term (acute kidney injury) and long-term (chronic kidney disease). Short term illnesses, like kidney stones and severe urinary tract infections, can cause long term damage to the kidneys if untreated but are very treatable with proper diagnosis and medications. Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that can impair urine flow from the kidneys into the urinary bladder.

Final stage of kidney disease is called end stage renal disease (ESRD). At this stage, patients do not survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant. Those with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure are at a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

Treatments have come a long way for those with end stage renal disease. While transplants are an option for some, dialysis is a very common treatment for those experiencing kidney failure. Dialysis is a process that mechanically filters one’s blood and safely returns it to their bloodstream. There are many ways to do dialysis, one can even receive treatment at home.

Taking Care of Your Kidneys

There are many things we can do to keep our kidneys healthy. The following tips will help you take care of your body and make sure your kidneys are getting the care they need:

  1. Maintain an active lifestyle – The best way to keep our weight in check is through routine physical activity. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day will help you maintain a healthy weight and enhance your cardiovascular health.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids – Our organs do not get the blood they need when we’re dehydrated, which can decrease the filtering function of kidneys. Water is the best drink of choice. Consumption of sodas is associated with worse kidney function later in life.
  3. Eat a healthy diet – Make sure you’re eating your daily portions of fruits and veggies and avoiding foods high in sodium that may raise your blood pressure.
  4. Avoid excessive use of over-the-counter pain killers – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), like Ibuprofen, Aleve, Naproxen and Motrin, can cause kidney damage of used regularly at high doses. Additionally, excessive doses of vitamin C, more than two grams per day, can cause kidney stones or impaired kidney function. Always check with your physician when starting new medications to ensure they are safe.
  5. Have your kidney function tested – This is crucial for those with a family history of kidney disease or experience with kidney related illnesses. Routine checkups will ensure your body is properly managing blood chemical levels and can help you create a care plan if needed.

Know someone who needs a kidney transplant or interested in donating? Visit UofL Health – Trager Transplant Center for more information. To learn more about your kidneys, contact your primary care physician today.

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Article by: Lina Mackelaite, M.D.

Lina Mackelaite, M.D., was born in Vilnius, Lithuania. She finished medical school there with her husband, who is also a nephrologist. In 2009, she finished an internal medicine residency and general nephrology fellowship at Drexel University. Dr. Mackelaite also completed a transplant fellowship at Westchester Medical Center in New York. In 2010, she and her family moved to Louisville and she joined UofL Physicians – Nephrology with a focus on transplant nephrology. She loves spending time outdoors hiking or biking, or playing the cello.

All posts by Lina Mackelaite, M.D.
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